Driverless taxis start operating in China

Driverless taxis start operating in China
A Baidu Apollo Robotaxi passes its customer service counter setup at the Shougang Park in Beijing. (AP)
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Updated 02 May 2021

Driverless taxis start operating in China

Driverless taxis start operating in China
  • Vehicles had to repeatdely stop as tourists took photos
  • Passengers can hail taxis on dedicated app

BEIJING: Chinese tech giant Baidu rolled out its paid driverless taxi service on Sunday, making it the first company to commercialize autonomous driving operations in China.
Unlike previous Baidu autonomous driving demonstrations in Beijing, this was the first time there was no safety driver sitting behind the wheel. Instead, a safety member was seated in the front passenger seat to deal with any emergencies.
Up to 10 Apollo “robotaxis” are now operating simultaneously in an area of about 3 square kilometers (1.2 square miles), picking up and dropping off passengers at eight stops in Shougang Park in western Beijing. Each ride costs 30 yuan ($4.60), and is open to passengers ages 18 to 60.
The park is a former site of iron and steel plants that’s been redeveloped into a sightseeing destination and a future venue for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Although traffic flows aren’t heavy, an influx of tourists was seen in the park on the second day of China’s international labor day holiday.
The robotaxis were repeatedly forced to brake when encountering jaywalkers or curious tourists who came close to the vehicles for photos.
Kelly Wang and her husband, who both work in the artificial intelligence industry, said they had a smooth riding experience.
“I would recommend people experience this. There is a strong sense of technology, because nobody is in the driver’s seat,” Wang said. Her husband was even considering buying such a car for their household.
Passengers can order a robotaxi on an app called Apollo Go. When the taxi arrives, passengers must have their identities verified before getting in. The taxi will start to move after it detects the passengers have fastened their seat belts.
One visitor, Amy Li, still had concerns about autonomous driving, because driving behavior on the road can be complex.
“We’ve all had experiences such as other cars jumping the queue or making a sudden lane change. People have emotions while robots don’t, at least at present,” she said “The robots may not be able to deal with such changes.”
Baidu, known for its search engines, has been testing autonomous driving on the open road since last year. Its Apollo Go robotaxi service has carried more than 210,000 passengers in three cities across China and aims to expand to 30 cities in the next three years, the company said in a press release.
“In the future, Baidu Apollo will launch driverless robotaxis in more cities, enabling the public to access greener, low-carbon and convenient travel services, while continuing to improve the unmanned service process and user experience,” said Wang, vice president and general manager of autonomous driving technology at Baidu in a statement.


New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai
Updated 07 May 2021

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai

New DIFC law aims to attract global firms to Dubai
  • DIFC to inventivize companies to move HQ to Dubai
  • Dubai wants financial services to contribute more to economy

RIYADH: Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum issued a new law to expand the strategic objectives of Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), WAM reported.

The new law expands the strategic objectives for DIFC which aims to further boost Dubai’s position as a global hub for financial services and promote the values of efficiency, transparency and integrity.

These objectives now also include advancing sustainable economic growth for Dubai, developing and diversifying its economy and increasing the GDP contribution of the financial services sector, to promote investment into Dubai and to attract regional and international entities to establish themselves in DIFC as their principal place of business.

This follows a similar move by Saudi Arabia earlier this year to encourage global firms to set up their regional headquarters in the Kingdom.

 


Narrower Saudi budget deficit is credit positive, Moody’s says

Narrower Saudi budget deficit is credit positive, Moody’s says
Updated 07 May 2021

Narrower Saudi budget deficit is credit positive, Moody’s says

Narrower Saudi budget deficit is credit positive, Moody’s says
  • Moody's saw signs of structural improvement in Saudi Arabia's finances
  • Non-oil budget deficit was lowest in six years in Q1 2021

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sharply narrower first-quarter budget deficit was partly a result of structural improvement in the government’s finances and therefore credit positive, Moody’s Investors Service said.

While much of the decline in the budget deficit was a result of higher oil prices and a seasonal decline in spending, structural factors such as higher VAT and lower capital spending were also responsible Moody’s said in an emailed report. Of particular note was the lowest non-oil fiscal deficit in six years, it said.

Saudi Arabia posted a budget deficit of $2 billion in Q1 2021, down from $29 billion in Q4 2020 and $9 billion in Q1 2020.

“The structural improvement reduces the fiscal exposure to fluctuations in global oil demand and prices,” Moody’s wrote in the report. “If sustained, it will also help reverse part of the fiscal deterioration that took place last year as a result of the coronavirus shock and arrest a further significant deterioration in the government’s balance sheet.”

Moody’s currently rates Saudi Arabia A1, its fifth highest investment grade, with a negative outlook.

Moody’s predicts Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy to grow about 3.4 percent in 2021 after contracting 2.3 percent in 2020.

“Last year’s contraction, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, derailed the build-up of the non-oil growth momentum evident during 2019 as a result of structural reforms and some initial progress in implementing diversification projects,” Moody’s said.


Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions
  • New instructions are effective May 6

RIYADH: Saudi Capital Market Authority announced on Thursday the approval of International Central Securities Depositories Instructions by the Securities Depository Center Company (Edaa), effective May 6, 2021.

The instructions regulate the linkage application process and its conditions, related Depository Center accounts, and additional general provisions, Edaa said in a filing.

The development is consistent with Saudi Vision 2030, which includes a program to create a regulatory environment in keeping with international best practices and to increase Saudi capital markets’ attractiveness to foreign investors.


Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2
Updated 07 May 2021

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2
  • Emirates Stallion Group, Al Seer Marine to IPO on ADX Second Market
  • IHC took stakes in SpaceX and Oxford Nanopore in past year

ABU DHABI: Three subsidiaries of International Holding Company (IHC) will be listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange’s (ADX) Second Market in the second quarter of 2021, the company said in a filing on Thursday.

Real estate company Emirates Stallion Group (ESG), Al Seer Marine Supplies & Equipment Co. and an as yet unnamed third company will be listed, IHC said.

IHC, one of Abu Dhabi’s largest conglomerates is chaired by HH Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, national security adviser to the UAE. Last year it listed Palm Sports, Easylease and Zee Stores on ADX’s Second Market.

ESG, founded in 2006, owns a diversified portfolio of businesses across engineering and construction, real estate investment, development and management. It had assets of 394 million dirhams ($107 million) as of the end of 2020 and over 1,000 employees, according to IHC.

Al Seer Marine, which provides services including yacht management, repair and maintenance, and boat building, was founded in 2002 and acquired by IHC in April 2020. It had assets of 717.8 million dirhams as at the end of 2020, IHC said.

Over the past six months, IHC and its subsidiaries have made investments in UK-based DNA sequencing firm Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Quantlase Lab and Tamouh Healthcare, which recently developed the concept of Containerized Aid for Respiratory Emergencies.

In 2020, it took a stake in Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, launched a partnership with DAL Group for a significant agricultural development in Sudan, and helped marketing consultancy Multiply make an investment in New York data-driven marketing firm YieldMissouri

IHC reported on Wednesday first-quarter net profit of $408 million.


Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m
  • Sary raised $30.5 million in a Series B round led by VentureSouq
  • Retailo secured $6.7 million in a seed round led by Shorooq Partners

RIYADH: Two competing Saudi business-to-business online marketplaces have announced fundraising, a further sign of the growing interest in the region’s startups.

Sary raised $30.5 million in a Series B round led by VentureSouq and joined by new investors US-based Rocketship.vc and STV, Sary said in a press release. Existing shareholders Ra’ed Ventures, MSA Capital and Derayah also contributed to the funding round.

Riyadh-based Retailo raised $6.7 million in a seed round led by existing investor Shorooq Partners and UK private equity shop Abercross Holdings, Retailo said a separate press release. Retailo, founded by former Careem executives, has now raised $9 million after being in operation for just nine months.

While Sary is the more mature business having being founded in 2018, both companies offer a platform to connect small businesses with wholesalers and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.

Sary plans to use the funds to grow geographically and expands the services it offers including credit provision.

“Core to VentureSouq’s overall fintech thesis is the emerging trend of embedded financial services,” VentureSouq Co-Founder and General Partner Suneel Gokhale said in the press release. “In Sary’s case, we see this move into credit as directly contributing to top-line growth, diversifying revenue streams, and improving unit economics for a strong, proven vertical-specific technology company.”

A rush to fund digital startups in the Middle East risks creating a valuation bubble, Fadi Ghandour, CEO of venture-capital investor Wamda, said last month.

“Since the pandemic the whole digital ecosystem which we were predicting to happen within ten years actually happened within a couple of months, so everything digital is growing exponentially,” he told Bloomberg Television. “Everything that is digital is exploding. So, lots of new money and lots of new startups.”

“There is so much new money coming into the market,” he said. “Sovereign wealth funds are starting to invest, and they are seeding a lot of VCs and so I think yes there is a little bit of a valuation bubble.”

Last month, 44 startups across the Middle East and North Africa raised more than $175 million, up $5 million from March, according to data from Wamda.

The biggest deal was by Riyadh-headquartered buy now pay later platform Tamara, which raised $110 million in a Series A round led by leading global payment processor Checkout.com. Helped by that transaction, Saudi Arabia topped the list in terms of number and value of startup investments for the first time.