How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative

How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative
Jizan, Saudi Arabia. (Getty Images)
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Updated 22 October 2021

How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative

How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative
  • Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October
  • Saudi Arabia plans to plant 10 billion trees

RIYADH: The forthcoming Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum, to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October, is set to be a milestone in the historic effort to transform the oil-based economy of Saudi Arabia into a cleaner and more sustainable one.
In addition to planting 10 billion trees (covering 30 percent of total land area), the SGI aims to create vast protected zones, conserve marine life around the coasts and encourage alternative forms of agriculture. One key aspect of this sea change will be the contribution of technology to the greening of Saudi Arabia.
A leader in the realm of agritech is Dr. Nahid Sidki, chief technology officer with Research Products Development Company (RPDC), a PIF-owned not-for-profit resource for the commercialization of Saudi-based research and breakthrough technology.
With a 30-year background in Silicon Valley, where he was executive director at the Stanford Research Institute, Dr. Sidki is an authority on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
“The SGI is a great initiative that can produce a clean future, reduce carbon emissions and impact climate change,” Dr. Sidki told Arab News. “AI and robotics can play a major role in this, not only here in Saudi Arabia but across the Gulf region.”
But how exactly does hi-tech have anything to do with planting trees and growing crops? The answer lies partly in the sheer volume of what the SGI envisions.
“To plant 10 billion trees in a country like Saudi Arabia, one has to ask how they will be monitored and how their health will be sustained for decades to come. We cannot rely on just hoping for the best. We need to look to the ultimate goal and then work backwards in terms of the development and implementation of technology. It’s like a closed-loop ecosystem: planting, monitoring, irrigating and harvesting the trees.”
A primary consideration of the SGI is the use (and misuse) of water, a precious resource in the desert kingdom. Conventional irrigation methods often lead to significant wastage.
Smart dust
“AI can play a crucial role here via smart, efficient irrigation systems that utilize sensors and data analytics to monitor climate conditions and soil moisture,” Dr. Sidki said. “If every tree and every plant had sensors to monitor the condition of the soil surrounding the roots, this could determine exactly when it requires water and exactly what amount.”
Such AI-based solutions are already being put into practice, for example in the form of “smart dust,” nanoparticles that communicate with each other, enabling complex data collection and efficient decision-making in all aspects of agriculture.
“Land health monitoring is also very important,” said Dr. Sidki. “Throughout the life cycle of crops, drones can enable precision spraying and maximize seed pollination, and the same kind of sensor technology can be used for livestock monitoring, crop spraying and smart harvesting.”
These technologies, combined with local and global advances in genetic engineering, could soon turn the parched landscape of Saudi Arabia into an agricultural powerhouse with many verdant oases. Having said that, the greening of Saudi Arabia will require not just the conservation but also the production of potable water.
Some 60 percent of the Kingdom’s fresh water is currently supplied by energy-intensive seawater desalination plants reliant on polluting fossil fuels, an unsustainable solution in view of the SGI. But new desalination and water filtration techniques are emerging quickly, positioning the KSA as a hub for proprietary green technology.
In one RPDC-assisted project called the Red Sea Farm, a group of KAUST researchers have successfully grown tomatoes using a mix of 75 percent seawater and 25 percent freshwater, a scalable method that was recognized and lauded by the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“The idea is to develop smart technology to reduce the cost of desalination,” said Dr. Sidki. “Imagine if we could utilize solar energy for desalination. We would have unlimited fresh water from the ocean, which we are surrounded by in the KSA.”
The SGI represents one aspect of Saudi Arabia’s broader 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), the fusion of AI, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering and quantum computing, blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. This is a highly collaborative movement involving numerous government bodies, PIF-owned companies (both commercial and not-for-profit), academic institutions, corporations, startups and SMEs.
“Robotics and AI will be playing a major role in every sector of society,” said Dr. Sidki. “And here in Saudi Arabia we have huge public and private funds to build capabilities.”
Innovation largely comes down to talent and education, and Dr. Sidki is again optimistic in this regard. “Saudi Arabia has a population of about 35 million, 70 percent of which is 25 or younger. And the percentage of those with a higher degree is very high compared to most other countries. In terms of PhD-holders the KSA probably ranks the highest in the region.”
Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of a major transformation that will involve a great deal of hard work and a lot of imagination.
“There’s an endless list of ways that new forms of technology can improve the quality of our daily life,” Dr. Sidki said. “People need to be very passionate about what they’re doing, and to be aware of the contributions they can make to their society, in order to have a huge impact. I think the combination of education and passion, and that impact, are the ingredients for a society to successfully achieve whatever it wants to do.”


US investment bank Moelis to open Riyadh office, hire Saudis

US investment bank Moelis to open Riyadh office, hire Saudis
Updated 26 November 2021

US investment bank Moelis to open Riyadh office, hire Saudis

US investment bank Moelis to open Riyadh office, hire Saudis

RIYADH: US investment bank Moelis & Co. plans to open an office in the Saudi capital Riyadh and will soon begin hiring staff in the Kingdom, Bloomberg reported.

The New York-based company sees the Kingdom attracting more foreign investors and benefiting from an “energy supercycle,” Vice Chairman Eric Cantor said in an interview.

The boutique financial adviser, founded by Wall Street veteran Ken Moelis, wants to do more deals in the region as the world’s biggest oil exporter prepares for as many as 160 privatizations in 2022, as well as a flood of initial public offerings to the Kingdom’s stock market.

“We are waiting for a final stamp on our license,” Cantor said. “It’s forthcoming and part of that is hiring Saudis,” he said, without saying how many people the bank wants to employ.

Moelis has its main office for the Middle East in Dubai. The move to open one in Riyadh comes as Saudi Arabia pushes international firms to relocate their regional headquarters there.

 


Oil demand to return to 2019 levels by end of 2022: Baker Hughes CEO

Oil demand to return to 2019 levels by end of 2022: Baker Hughes CEO
Updated 26 November 2021

Oil demand to return to 2019 levels by end of 2022: Baker Hughes CEO

Oil demand to return to 2019 levels by end of 2022: Baker Hughes CEO

RIYADH: Oil demand will return to 2019 levels by the end of 2022, despite some delays in projects due to repercussions from the pandemic, Baker Hughes CEO Lorenzo Simonelli told Al-Arabiya.

National oil companies in the Middle East have been preparing for the increased demand, while international oil companies, especially those in North America, have been maintaining financial discipline in returning funds to shareholders, he said.

However, some independent oil companies have already begun to increase their capital spending, he said.

Currently, Baker Hughes sees an improvement in oil and gas services activity, not only in North America, but also in international basins with low costs, he said.

When it comes to developing its products, Baker Hughes always takes into account carbon emissions and the Texas-based energy services company is trying to shift its sources in its manufacturing operations to renewables and has contracted with suppliers, Simonelli said.

The company pledged to reduce carbon emissions of the first and second scope by 50 percent by 2030, and to zero by 2050, Simonelli said. The company is now concerned with dealing with third scope emissions, he said.

 


Saudi Arabia startups see huge growth in eco-friendly ‘impact’ funding 

Saudi Arabia startups see huge growth in eco-friendly ‘impact’ funding 
Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi Arabia startups see huge growth in eco-friendly ‘impact’ funding 

Saudi Arabia startups see huge growth in eco-friendly ‘impact’ funding 

RIYADH: Venture capital impact investment in Saudi Arabia reached a new high in 2021 in both total number of transactions and capital deployed, according to a report produced by MAGNiTT and Saudi Aramco.

Impact investments are those aimed at generating a measurable social and environmental benefit alongside a financial return. 

Impact funding in the Kingdom up to the third quarter of 2021 was 130 percent higher than in 2020 in terms of funding, and 21 percent higher in transactions.

Some $444 million were invested through 403 deals with impact-driven startups across the Middle East and North Africa between 2016 and the third quarter of 2021, according to the report.

Of those deals, 20 percent involved Saudi-based firms.

Flat6Labs was the leading impact investor in startups based in the MENA region with 45 transactions between 2016 and the third quarter of this year to date. 

The Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center, 500 Startups, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Innovation Fund, Oasis 500 and Falak Startups invested in 12 or more funding rounds raised by impact-driven startups in MENA.

The education and healthcare technology sectors accounted for the highest share in total impact VC deals, collectively registering 40 percent of all transactions in MENA from 2016 to the third quarter of this year to date.

The energy sector played a key role in impact investments across MENA, with 95 percent of all funding going to startups within the impact ecosystem.

 


Cryptocurrencies tumble on COVID-19 variant; virtual land sells for $2.5m: Crypto wrap

Cryptocurrencies tumble on COVID-19 variant; virtual land sells for $2.5m: Crypto wrap
Updated 26 November 2021

Cryptocurrencies tumble on COVID-19 variant; virtual land sells for $2.5m: Crypto wrap

Cryptocurrencies tumble on COVID-19 variant; virtual land sells for $2.5m: Crypto wrap

Bitcoin led a rout in cryptocurrencies on Friday as investors fled assets considered riskier, including stocks and commodities, and headed for the refuge of government bonds, the Japanese yen and the US dollar.

Concerns over a new COVID-19 variant that may evade vaccines and spread more quickly than previous mutations were seen as responsible for the movements.

Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, fell as much as 9.2 percent to $53,551, its lowest since Oct. 10. That would be Bitcoin’s biggest one-day decline since Sept. 20, leaving it more than one-fifth lower since hitting a record high of nearly $70,000 earlier in November.

The second-largest cryptocurrency, Ether, fell over 13 percent to its lowest in a month, trading at $3,924, down almost 20 percent from its record high, hit on Nov. 10.

A number of European and Asian nations have suspended travel to and from southern Africa after a potentially more deadly COVID-19 variant emerged in Botswana and South Africa. The variant has so many mutations that current vaccines may not be effective against it, according to scientists.

“The spread of (the variant), especially to other countries, could wither investor appetite further,” said Yuya Hasegawa at Tokyo-based exchange Bitbank. “BTC's upside will likely be limited and the market should brace for further loss.”

While cryptocurrencies wobbled, a plot of land in Axie Infinity, an animated, metaverse pet-training game, sold for $2.5 million on Thursday, according to a tweet on the game’s Twitter account.

The sale, for 550 ether, was the highest for a single plot of virtual land, according to the tweet. The transaction was for a section of Genesis land, one of several types available in the game.

A larger sale of virtual real estate took place on Monday in Decentraland. In that transaction, 618,000 MANA, worth about $3.2 million at the time, bought 116 land parcels, according to Tokens.com, whose Metaverse Group subsidiary made the purchase.

Interest in the metaverse has surged in recent months, spurred by Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in October in a sign of its increasing focus on the sector.

Revenue from virtual gaming worlds could grow to $400 billion in 2025, from $180 billion in 2020, Grayscale Investments said on Thursday. The overwhelming majority of that $400 billion will be in-game spending, compared to spending on premium games, the company said.

Grayscale defined the metaverse as “interconnected, experiential, 3D virtual worlds where people located anywhere can socialize in real-time to form a persistent, user-owned, internet economy spanning the digital and physical worlds.”


Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says
Updated 26 November 2021

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says
  • Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent

RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.

Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.

The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.

Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.

He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.

Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.

Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.