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.


Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia’s diverse topography attracts stargazers amid summer vibes

Mountains typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust, and with its different terrains and huge size. (SPA)
  • Its mountains, valleys, plains, deserts are perfect escape for people trying to avoid bright city lights to observe night sky
  • Stargazing offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Vision 2030

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s size and diverse topography make it an ideal location for astronomy enthusiasts. Its mountains, valleys, sand dunes, hills, plains and large deserts are a perfect escape for people trying to avoid the bright city lights to observe the night sky.

Mulham Hindi, an astronomy researcher, told Arab News that the best place to observe the night sky is far away from light pollution caused by human settlements.
“It is also best in locations where cloud cover is low. With its different terrains and huge size, Saudi Arabia is a suitable place for observing stars and even building observatories,” Hindi said.
He added that there are many locations in Saudi Arabia that are perfect places for astronomers and stargazers, citing Bani Malik, 150 kilometers south of Taif as a prime example.
“The (height above sea level) of that mountainous area reduces the percentage of moisture and atmospheric impurity,” he explained. “Its throughout-the-year cloud cover is less than 25 percent.”
Hindi also mentioned Al-Figrah mountain, west of Madinah, as one of the best areas for stargazing, as the mountain stands an estimated 6,000 feet above sea level.
“With their moderate weather, the northwestern regions of the Kingdom — which include AlUla, the Red Sea Projects, and NEOM — are among the areas with the least light pollution, (so) stargazers regularly visit,” he added.
Hindi explained that the observation of the stars and planets is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, particularly in the nomadic lifestyle prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula before the discovery of oil.
“Stars are (mentioned in) many Arabic poems that were composed hundreds of years ago and are still cited today,” he said. “It is also part of Saudi culture to observe stars while moving from one place to another, especially in the desert areas.”
Hindi also noted that the night sky above the Kingdom has become a popular subject for photographers in recent years. “These photographers have enriched exhibitions with very beautiful photos of the starry sky of the Kingdom, its distinctive terrains and heritage sites,” he said.
From a scientific perspective, he pointed out, the development and growing popularity of astronomy have encouraged Saudi astronomers to examine the planets, galaxies and stars more thoroughly than ever before, producing “scientific studies and research (that) can significantly contribute to the study of astronomy.”
A few days before his death earlier this month, the head of the astronomy and space department at King Abdul Aziz University (KAU), Dr. Hasan Asiri, spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the difference between the three main types of terrain for stargazing in the Kingdom — deserts, plains and mountains.
“Deserts are characterized by their aridity and lack of light pollution. They include the desert of the Empty Quarter, the Nafud desert, Al-Dahna desert and Bajada desert, which is located to the west of Tabuk region,” Asiri said.
He added that plains are characterized by stable atmospheric layers and low temperatures and humidity levels. “These include the plains of NEOM, AMAALA the Red Sea islands, Al-Wajh, Al-Shuaibah and Al-Silaa region located to the south of Al-Wajh province.”
Mountains, he explained, typically offer stargazers clear skies in an environment free of clouds, light pollution and dust. He listed Al-Figrah Mountains, west of Madinah; Taif’s Al-Shafa and Al-Hada Mountains; and Mount “Ral,” near Al-Wajh’s Al-Manjor Center as good spots for astronomers. “Several cities can also be added to the list of sites suitable for observational astronomy, namely the northwestern city of AlUla, which is considered one of the Kingdom’s most prominent tourist destinations, in addition to Hail and Tayma, found to the southwest of the city of Tabuk,” he added.
Asiri said that ‘stargazing tourism’ offers an obvious opportunity for the Kingdom to further diversify its tourism offering as it seeks to boost non-oil industries in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
“This issue interests many people, especially now that the Kingdom is steadily moving forward towards establishing an actual tourism sector and ensuring its sustainability through a comprehensive national development plan,” he said.
“Establishing additional stargazing reserves allows us to create new and exceptional tourist destinations that are at the same time entertaining and educational,” he continued. “It also enables us to organize astronomical events, such as world space weeks or astronomy days, activate public and private space domes, and participate in scientific activities related to astronomical events — such as observing solar and lunar eclipses, shooting stars and planets. This approach would combine science with the joy of observing the night sky.”
The Kingdom is already home to several observatories, he noted, including those in Makkah, Al-Wajh and Halat Ammar, as well as the mobile observatories in Sudair, Tumair, Shaqra, Qassim, Dammam, Madinah and Hail. Meanwhile, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Center for Crescents and Astronomy, located at the top of Makkah’s Clock Tower, is considered the largest network of astronomical telescopes in the world.
According to the head of the Qatif Astronomy Society, Dr. Anwar Al-Mohammed, the Milky Way is one of the best astronomical phenomena to observe.
“It is the galaxy in which our sun and the solar system are located. It (consists of) more than 100 billion solar masses,” he explained. “At night, the Milky Way appears as a band of light in the sky and its appearance differs between one region and another based on the level of light pollution.”
Al-Mohammed noted that the Red Sea Development Company is currently working on turning an area of the Tabuk region between the provinces of Umluj and Al-Wajh into an “International Starlight Reserve,” by limiting the use of unnatural lighting in the Red Sea Project at night.
This, he said, could qualify the area as an International Dark Sky Reserve (a region characterized by “an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment”), which requires the approval of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
If it were to be granted membership, he explained, “it would be joining more than 100 international sites that have abided by strict measures when supporting their communities to achieve this goal, and restore the amazing relationship between mankind and the stars.”


Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi study documents safety of AstraZeneca

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. (REUTERS file photo)
  • No major side effects were observed, no breakthrough infection was reported

JEDDAH: A Saudi study has documented the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine used to protect people against the coronavirus.

The results of the study, titled the “Safety and Reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1 (AZD1222) COVID-19 Vaccine in Saudi Arabia,” were shared on Friday by the deputy minister of preventive health, Abdullah Assiri.
The cross-sectional study, conducted on 1,592 randomly selected vaccinees, measured the “estimated the safety and reactogenicity of the ChAdOx1-S vaccine as administered to adults after the first dose.”
No major side effects were observed and no breakthrough infection was reported during the observation period.
The results showed that 34.7 percent of the studied group reported a reaction after the first dose while none of the group had any reaction after the second.
Some of the side effects reported among the group were injection site pain in 30.5 percent, musculoskeletal symptoms in 27.5 percent, while 62.4 percent of males experienced more fever than females (37.6 percent).
The study also concluded that the rate of post-vaccine COVID-19 infection was 0.5 percent with zero hospitalization.

INNUMBERS

524,584 Total cases

505,003 Recoveries

8,226 Deaths

11,355 Active cases

“The data showed that the vaccine is well tolerated with differences in the reactogenicity between males and females. In the follow-up period, there was no reported COVID-19 infection, hospital admissions or death,” the study found. “However, the prevalence of the different variants in Saudi (Arabia) is not reported. In an international phase clinical trial, a single dose of the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine showed 67 percent efficacy in preventing moderate to severe–critical COVID-19 as evaluated 14-28 days after the dose administration. The efficacy against severe–critical COVID-19 was 77-85 percent as evaluated 14-28 days post after administration.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 14 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 8,226.
There were 1,187 new cases, meaning that 524,584 people in the country had contracted the disease. A total of 11,355 cases remained active, of which 1,395 patients were in critical condition.
In addition, the ministry said that 1,176 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 505,003.
Meanwhile, 26,395,789 people in the country to date have received a jab against COVID-19, including 1,458,482 elderly people.


Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabia will not tolerate human trafficking crimes, says attorney general

Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib. (Supplied)
  • “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions”

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution will not tolerate trafficking in persons and will take legal measures against the perpetrators of such crimes, the Kingdom’s attorney general has said.
Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujib said that the victims of such crimes would receive special attention from the competent care authorities.
His statement was made in response to World Day Against Trafficking on July 30.
“The Saudi state, since its inception, has been protecting rights and freedoms from all forms of crime and exploitation, emphasizing the Basic Law of Governance and all the systems in force in the Kingdom and international treaties and charters, and designated an independent system concerned with this crime — the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law,” Al-Mujib said.
“The Public Prosecution is responsible for filing a criminal case against violators of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, as well as inspecting and monitoring shelters for victims of trafficking in persons in order to protect them,” he said. “The system stipulates a number of severe penalties for those who carry out any of the criminal descriptions.”
The bureau has also allocated an independent department to investigate such crimes and undertake the related procedures to deal with them.


Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics
Updated 14 min 30 sec ago

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Who’s Who: Naif Mosallam Alblawi, GM at Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics

Naif Mosallam Alblawi has been the general manager of international relations and cooperation at the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) since August 2017.

Alblawi is in charge of developing and implementing strategies with international statistics offices and organizations and monitoring assigned deportment at GASTAT on the international statistical press release to ensure the information and data included for Saudi Arabia is accurate and up-to-date.

He also served as the director of partnerships and statistical coordination at GASTAT from August 2017 to March 2020 and was responsible for supervising and developing a methodology and framework for strategic partnerships as well as preparing the agreements and the special memorandums of understanding and ensuring the clarity and quality of these agreements.

Alblawi also held the position of international data supply unit supervisor, and who established this unit to provide international organizations with data.

He worked as the team leader of the united-ethylene department at the Saudi Arabia Basic Industrial Co. from July 2007 to February 2013. He is known as a highly motivated and professional individual, with an ability to communicate and handle the corporate and multinational environment.

Alblawi attended several international conferences and events. He is a member of the MASDAR committee, a member of the coordinating committees of GASTAT, a member of the Sustainable Development Goals, a member of the Global Innovation Index committee and a member of the UN Statistical Commission that created the high-level group.

He received double majors in international business and a management minor in economics from King’s College, in the US.


Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
Saudi Minister Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh visits the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. (SPA)
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo

Saudi Islamic minister visits King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo
  • The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets

SARAJEVO: Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh recently visited the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo as part of his official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was accompanied by Saudi Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Osama bin Dakhil Al-Ahmadi and the director of the King Fahd Cultural Center, Dr. Mohammed bin Hassan Al-Asheikh.
The minister gave instructions to furnish the mosque — one of the most important Islamic monuments in the Balkans — with 4,000 square meters of the highest-quality carpets.
He also urged that the mosque increase its education and advocacy programs to disseminate moderation, promote a culture of tolerance and coexistence, in accordance with Islamic values.