Britain’s driverless car ambitions hit speed bump

Britain’s driverless car ambitions hit speed bump
With human error estimated to cause around 90% of accidents, insurers have shown considerable interest in automated driving technologies. (AFP)
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Updated 22 April 2021

Britain’s driverless car ambitions hit speed bump

Britain’s driverless car ambitions hit speed bump
  • Insurers worry over drivers misunderstanding limits of technology

LONDON: Britain’s goal to be a leader in adopting self-driving cars could backfire unless automakers and government regulators spell out the current limitations of the technology, insurance companies warn.

Insurers are key players in the shift to automated driving, with some investing in a technology they believe will slash accidents and deaths, and save them billions in payouts.

But they are worried drivers might equate today’s lower levels of automation with fully self-driving vehicles, potentially causing more accidents in the short term and permanently damaging public confidence in the technology. “What you describe things as is incredibly important, so people don’t use them inappropriately,” said David Williams, managing director of underwriting at AXA Insurance, whose parent AXA SA made €17 billion in revenues from property and casualty insurance, including motor insurance, in 2020.

“I genuinely believe the world will be a safer place with autonomous vehicles and I really don’t want that derailed.”

In what would be a world first, Britain is considering regulating the use of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) on its roads, possibly even on motorways at speeds of up to 70 miles (113 km) per hour. It is also deciding whether to describe them to the general public as “automated” systems.

It is that one word — automated — that has stirred controversy and put the country at the center of a global debate about self-driving terminology at a sensitive moment in its evolution.

The technology is evolving rapidly and there is no consensus on how to deploy it or what to call some features. Regulations in the Americas, Europe and Asia lag far behind technical developments and issues over accident liability are unresolved.

ALKS use sensors and software to keep cars within a lane, accelerating and braking without driver input. Some experts say ALKS should be called “assisted-driving technology” to avoid potentially misleading consumers into believing they can let their attention wander at the wheel.

The dangers of drivers apparently misunderstanding the limits of technology has already become an issue in the US, where regulators have been looking into about 20 crashes involving Tesla’s driver assistance tools, such as its “Autopilot” system — a “Level 2” technology that requires the driver’s constant attention.

Britain’s Thatcham Research said it had tested cars with the technologies underpinning ALKS and found they cannot swerve out of lane to avoid obstacles, see pedestrians emerging from cars at roadside, or read road signs. The car can alert the driver to resume control, but with a potentially fatal lag at high speeds.

Britain’s Transport Ministry said its primary concern was public safety and it had not decided to permit the use of ALKS at high speeds or whether to call the technology “automated.” Its decisions are expected later
this year.

The World Health Organization estimates road accidents globally kill around 1.35 million people a year.

With human error estimated to cause around 90 percent of accidents, insurers have shown considerable interest in automated driving technologies.

There is potentially a big economic boost too from embracing the new technology.

Britain’s Transport Ministry forecasts by 2035 around 40 percent of new UK cars could have self-driving capabilities, creating up to 38,000 new skilled jobs.

INTERVIEW: Metito lays out strategy to keep region watered

INTERVIEW: Metito lays out strategy to keep region watered
Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

INTERVIEW: Metito lays out strategy to keep region watered

INTERVIEW: Metito lays out strategy to keep region watered
  • Rami Ghandour, managing director, explains why Middle East must realize ‘water is not free’

The Middle East’s water challenge is summed up in one stark statistic: The region is home to 6 percent of the world’s population but has just 1 percent of its fresh water.

Rami Ghandour, managing director of UAE-based water company Metito Utilities, knows these and similar figures by heart. He can tell you how much of the population of Egypt inhabits water-intensive cities (97 percent) and how much water the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region consumes per capita compared to the US (significantly more).

“I think the first thing is a realization that water is not free. It is something which is quite costly. Therefore, people need to take care of it,” he told Arab News.

Metito has been taking care of water in the region, and the world, for more than 60 years, after its foundation in Lebanon in 1958 by the serial entrepreneurial Ghandour business family whose members are still big shareholders.

It is a world-leading company in the water infrastructure sector, operating sewage, water treatment, and desalination facilities in 46 countries, and is increasingly playing a leading role in the global drive toward more renewable and sustainable use of the world’s resources.

So, is Metito a utility, or an infrastructure company, or an environmental operation?

“You can check all the boxes if you like. Historically, I’d say we were an environmental company in that what we do is desalinate water, supply water to people, treat wastewater and recycle water, both industrial and domestic. Then also more recently we’ve expanded into the renewables energy sector,” Ghandour said.

The Metito group, backed by big investors such as Mitsubishi of Japan and the investment arm of the World Bank, is organized along three business lines: A design and build unit that covers the full spectrum of the engineering, procurement, and construction process, which to date has executed more than 3,000 projects around the world; the utilities and investments division offers project finance, consulting, and management services; while the chemicals unit develops environment-friendly chemicals and specialist treatment solutions for customers.

“We maintain an arm’s length arrangement between the different companies on purpose but are able to develop projects — that is at the heart of what we do — and deliver those to people to enable both environmental improvement and also basic human development and needs,” Ghandour added.

Water — cheap, free, or subsidized — has long been taken for granted in the Middle East, even as the pressure on its supply has increased with rising population, agricultural and industrial usage. Ghandour thinks that mindset has to change.

“There are obviously jurisdictions in the region, including here in the UAE, where full market price is being charged, full cost recovery and taxes are being charged. But there are other areas where there are heavy subsidies in place and that does result in encouraging wasteful behavior,” he said.


BORN: Beirut 1975


  • Master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cambridge
  • MBA in finance and entrepreneurial management from Wharton Business School


  • Process engineer, Bechtel London
  • Management consultant, Boston Consulting Group, New York
  • Managing director, Metito Utilities
  • Director, Metito Group

Public education programs — such as encouraging people to turn taps off and wash the car less frequently — obviously play a part in public awareness, but the bigger challenges are more structural.

For example, the biggest consumer of water in the region is not personal domestic consumption, but agriculture.

Governments — including that of Saudi Arabia — have had some success in encouraging more efficient use of water for farming, and new technologies such as hydroponics and vertical farming can also encourage optimal use of water resources.

Some countries too have taken a more radical approach, buying farmland in other parts of the world with better water supply, growing food there, and then importing it back to the Gulf.

But Ghandour pointed out that there were other simple and effective ways to optimize water efficiency. Leakage and water theft were big problems in some countries. “People are just helping themselves and there isn’t the regulation and the enforcement to make sure that it’s not a problem,” he added.

Reuse of water was also an area of great potential. The example here was Singapore, which has made great strides toward reusing water in the domestic, industrial, and agricultural sectors.

In the Gulf, one of the sights that sets environmentalists’ nerves on edge was the liberal use of precious water on golf courses or green public spaces, in areas that would naturally be arid desert.

However, Ghandour noted that an increasing proportion of that was recycled water that may not be fit for human consumption, but which was perfectly acceptable for irrigation. Dubai, for example, has a groundbreaking wastewater recycling facility which offers users two taps for different water uses.

Metito is bidding in a project in Botswana in Africa where wastewater is directly recycled back into the consumption and drinking water systems, one of only two in the world that does that.

The company was also looking at the technology behind a pioneering project in California which recycles wastewater directly into the underground aquifers that feed water back into the consumption cycle.

But even if the region optimizes its usage, prevents leakages, and adopts efficient pricing mechanisms, there will always be a need for desalination in a part of the world as arid as the Arabian Gulf.

Desalination has been the mainstay of the basic infrastructure that has allowed the region to enjoy high rates of economic growth over decades, but it has also come under fire from environmentalists, for two reasons: The use of carbon fuels such as oil and gas in the expensive process of turning sea water into usable water; and the extra brine — salty water — expelled into the sea as a by-product.

Ghandour said the second objection was less of a significant factor, pointing out that the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea were open tidal seaways, and also that some desalination facilities in the UAE have been built on the Indian Ocean side of the country, allowing brine to disperse into a wider body of water.

The use of hydrocarbon fossil fuels to produce water was a different matter.

“I would decouple the power issue from the desalination. The good news is that the renewables business model has become much more competitive. Renewable power today is often below the cost of fossil fuels power,” he added.

The megaprojects of Saudi Arabia were the perfect testing ground for this new model. Metito is involved in two solar-powered desalination facilities in the NEOM development, which mix renewable power with sources from the national grid, and it has also won a contract for a huge desalination plant in the industrial zone at Jubail in the Eastern Province. Ghandour hinted that other big Saudi contracts were in the offing.

There are also huge Metito projects on the other side of the Red Sea, in Egypt, including an ambitious plan to irrigate the Sinai desert with treated water pumped under the Suez Canal.

Saudi Arabia’s need for clean, efficient, and reusable water was likely to increase exponentially over the next decade. For example, in addition to the megaprojects such as NEOM and Qiddiya outside Riyadh, there are massive plans to double the size of the Saudi capital by 2030, as well as an initiative to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom to help mitigate carbon emissions. Does Ghandour think these ambitious plans are feasible, from the viewpoint of a water expert?

He noted that the way Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries had gone about the task was encouraging, with increasing private sector investment. “I would argue that is typically the most efficient way to deliver these projects with very strong environmental compliance standards in place,” he said, with one eye on the higher standards now required by international private sector investors in line with ESG (environmental, social, and governance) standards.

“It has put everybody in the mindset of the ESG priorities that are there, so everybody is looking at doing projects in a manner that is sustainable, and definitely the Saudis have been very much involved in that,” he added.

And does he think the Kingdom will have the capacity to water all those trees?

“I don’t have the specifics on the plan to irrigate those trees, but I’m sure as an outsider I would say yes. Additional desalination capacity is being implemented at a high rate with these public private partnership projects.

“So, additional sources of water are there, and I go back to the wastewater that can be reused, which is perfect for irrigating trees. There is today a lot of wastewater that is effectively thrown away in the Kingdom. So, it’s something where reuse would be of a significant environmental benefit,” he said.

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown
Updated 14 May 2021

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown

Saudi copycat watchdog destroys 5 million products amid global crackdown
  • Saudi move comes amid global push to tackle IP theft
  • Amazon removed 10 billion suspect listings last year

RIYADH: The Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property destroyed about five million products violating intellectual property regulations during the past year.
It was working in tandem with the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority and the Ministry of Information.
Counterfeit commercial goods accounted for about 40 percent of the tally, amounting to two million goods, while nearly three million products were defined
as a violation of intellectual property rights.
The Authority seized 11,620 products that violated intellectual property in five cities, Al Eqtisadiah reported.
It warned against promoting or trading in any product that violates intellectual property rights, or any behavior that violates intellectual property regulations.
Governments and corporations are increasing their efforts to crack down on counterfeit goods as rogue operators use e-commerce to boost sales.
Amazon said this week that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected listings of counterfeit goods on its platform last year as part of a global crackdown in the face of pressure from consumers, brands and regulators.
The e-commerce giant made the announcement in its first “brand protection report,” as part of its initiative to weed out listings of fakes by third-party sellers, AFP reported.

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
Updated 14 min 58 sec ago

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi

Saudi Grintafy football scout platform helps clubs to discover the next Messi
  • Platform allows players to build their profiles
  • Saudi tech startups boom as sector attracts wave of cash

RIYADH: A Saudi startup aims to help the world’s biggest football clubs make talent scouting more efficient.
The history of football is full of tales of chance sightings by a scout that has led to many a glittering career in the game.
At the same time, across amateur and weekend leagues the world over, there are many talented footballers who are never seen by a scout and never have a professional career.
Saudi startup Grintafy aims to help make the process of identifying emerging talents more efficient by helping footballers build their profile in the game through the ratings of fellow players which can in turn be showcased to potential scouts and clubs.
It is one of several new Saudi technology startups that has started to make international waves as the sector attracts more venture capital.
West Ham United last week become an official club partner for the fledgling platform which will see Grintafy have a presence across the club’s growing global digital channels as well as becoming the presenting partner of all academy match highlights.
The agreement allows coaching and technical staff at West Ham full access to view Grintafy user profiles and stats.
Selected players will then be chosen and invited to an official tryout in England.
The relationship will also see West Ham United Academy coaches deliver coaching programs in the Middle East.
“At West Ham United, we pride ourselves on our ability and capacity to nurture talent. We are excited to work in partnership with Grintafy to create experiences for aspiring players,” said Nathan Thompson, commercial director at West Ham United.
Grintafy will also be holding regular regional and national open tryouts to find the best of the best. Players chosen will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to England and train like a West Ham academy player.
“Grintafy was started so that every young footballer has an opportunity to make their dream come true, regardless of their economic status or access to resources,” said Grintafy CEO Majdi Al-Lulu. “This partnership ensures that we are bringing international opportunities to the Kingdom and keeping our focus on the 2030 vision. West Ham has a rich history and pedigree for developing talent and giving youth a platform to shine. This perfectly aligns with our key values.”

Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
Updated 14 May 2021

Huge Titanic replica to open in China

Huge Titanic replica to open in China
  • Six-year construction was longer than original Titanic build
  • Site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic

SUINING: The Titanic is being brought back from the deep, more than a century after its ill-fated maiden voyage, at a landlocked Chinese theme park where tourists can soon splash out for a night on a fullscale replica.
The project’s main backer was inspired to recreate the world’s most infamous cruise liner by the 1997 box office hit of the same name — once the world’s top-grossing film and wildly popular in China.
The original luxury vessel, the largest of its time and branded “unsinkable” by its owners, has become a byword for hubris ever since it plunged into the depths of the Atlantic in 1912 after striking an iceberg, leaving more than 1,500 people dead.
Investor Su Shaojun says he was motivated to finance the audacious, 260-meter-long (850-foot-long) duplicate to keep memories of the Titanic alive.
“I hope this ship will be here in 100 or 200 years,” Su said.
“We are building a museum for the Titanic.”
It has taken six years — longer than the construction of the original Titanic — plus 23,000 tons of steel, more than a hundred workers and a hefty one billion yuan ($153.5 million) price tag.
Everything from the dining room to the luxury cabins and even the door handles are styled on the original Titanic.
It forms the centerpiece of a Sichuan province theme park more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the sea.
The site features a replica of Southampton Port seen in James Cameron’s 1997 disaster epic, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictional character Jack swings on board after winning his ticket in a bet.
Tour buses play the film’s theme tune, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” on repeat.
It costs up to 2,000 yuan (around $150) to spend one night on the ship for the “five-star cruise service,” Su says, adding that with a functioning steam engine guests will feel that they are really at sea.
He was so excited by the challenge that he sold his energy industry assets, including a stake in several hydropower projects, to invest in the Titanic.
But even before opening, the replica has drawn plenty of controversy.
Online users have questioned whether the famous ship would attract tourists given the disaster that struck its real-life inspiration.
Others feared it would join other ambitious Chinese building projects that turned into white elephants — including a 2008 replica of the USS Enterprise, an American aircraft carrier, which cost over $18 million and was abandoned shortly after it opened.
But Su hopes as many as five million annual visitors will come to see his Titanic.
“This tourist volume should guarantee the return of our investment,” he added.
Project manager Xu Junnian said he felt it was important to preserve the vessel’s memory.
“The greatest significance of building this ship is to carry forward and inherit the great spirit of Titanic,” he said.
Aside from the enduring appeal of the Hollywood blockbuster, the Titanic has stolen headlines in China in recent weeks with the release of a new documentary called “The Six.”
The film tells the story of a group of Chinese travelers on board when the ship sinks, of whom six survived.
But the developers are hoping to rope in some bigger names to help draw visitors.
“We’d like to invite Jack, Rose and James Cameron to the inauguration ceremony,” Su said.

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
Updated 14 May 2021

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
  • The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI: They are a familiar sight on the busy streets of Djibouti: women clutching handbags bulging with dollars, euros, riyals and rupees, the money changers keeping the informal economy ticking over.
Perched on plastic chairs, feet propped on wooden steps, these “sarifley” as they are locally known are vital to the global cast of migrants, traders and soldiers passing through this tiny nation at the crossroads of Africa and Arabia.
Trading in money offers a safe, reliable way especially for women to feed their families, in a conservative country where they lag men in education and literacy.
“I have it all. Euros, English pounds, Turkish lira, dollars, Indian rupees, anything,” said Medina, who offered just her first name, flashing a purse she estimated held the equivalent of one million Djiboutian francs ($5,600/€4,700) in multiple currencies.
Customers and traders alike say that economic life would suffer a lot more friction without the money changers.
Camped at Rimbaud Square, overlooked by a grand mosque in the heart of Djibouti city, Medina and three other sarifley scan the bustling crowds for customers.
Before long a young man from Yemen, the war-torn country across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from Djibouti, approaches in a flowing white tunic and turban, wanting to change Saudi riyals.
Medina exchanged a few words with the foreigner, tapped some calculations into her phone, then counted out a wad of crumpled Djiboutian francs retrieved from the depths of her bag.
“We bring Saudi riyals with us (to Djibouti) because our currency, with the war, keeps fluctuating all the time,” said the Yemeni, slipping away into the crowd as a police car crawled by.
Refugees from Yemen, migrants en route to the Gulf, foreign troops stationed in naval bases, Ethiopian truck drivers — Djibouti is a melting pot of cultures, and currencies, on the Horn of Africa.
“We also deal with Djibouti businessmen going abroad for their work, as well as foreigners and tourists,” said Noura Hassan, another sarifley in the capital.
When her husband died a decade ago, the mother-of-three started out with just her savings in francs, before acquiring more currencies.
Every day, Hassan refers to a printout from the local bank to gauge exchange rates and determines what to offer customers for the major currencies.
“It is a good job, and I am proud of it,” said the money changer, wearing a blue veil and black abaya, the traditional floor-length tunic worn by Muslim women.
In PK12, a busy neighborhood where many Ethiopians live, Ahmed jumped out of his tuk-tuk to change some Ethiopian birr on the roadside.
“The difference might be 10 or 20 francs, it’s not much,” said the rickshaw driver about the street rates compared to those officially on offer.
But those exchange offices are far away — whereas the sarifley are on every corner and marketplace.
“Without them, I would say that trade in PK12 would not be possible,” said Faiza, who sells khat, the popular narcotic plant that is a daily staple in Djibouti and other parts of the Horn.
“They make sure to feed their families ... We help each other like that,” the 25-year-old trader said.
The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti, said researcher Abdoulkader Houssein Mohamed from the Djibouti Center for Studies and Research (CERD).
Of those engaged in the sector, three-quarters are women, he added.
Safety might be a concern, but in a country of just under one million inhabitants, even the capital feels like a village, the sarifley said — a reassurance when your line of work requires carrying bundles of cash on the streets.
Zahra, one sarifley in the city, said of thieves: “They don’t come near us. They are afraid.”
She also wasn’t too concerned about being scammed by a forger or unscrupulous seller trying to palm off counterfeit cash.
“Even if I was asleep and you handed me a forgery, I would know... Counterfeit cash, I’ll know. The real thing, I know. That’s my job isn’t it?“