MAKKAH: Smart technology, including a touchscreen robot, is being used to serve visitors to the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The four-wheeled robot helps people to perform their rituals, offers Ifta services, and answers questions.
There is the option of adding instant translation, remote communication with sheikhs, and setting directives in different languages.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques is using smart technology to develop the level of services it offers.
The remote-controlled robot supports 11 languages including Arabic, English, French, Russian, Persian, Turkish, Chinese, Bengali and Hausa.
It has a 21-inch touchscreen that can be used to deal with visitors’ issues of concern, such as guiding and expressing an opinion, and a smart stoppage system that allows it to move easily and flexibly.
The presidency offers the service of Maqra' Al-Haramayn, the Two Holy Mosques Reader, which teaches the Qur'an to Muslims around the world and to Grand Mosque visitors who want to improve their recitation and receive certificates.
The education is remote, with transmission from the Grand Mosque, and is available in six languages including Arabic, English, Urdu, and Hausa.
The presidency has also launched the Smart Qur'an, an e-device for those with visual disabilities so they can read the Qur’an in Braille.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Saudi foreign ministry said.
The Thai prime minister will discuss bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia on his two-day trip.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai visited Saudi Arabia in January 2020, marking the first visit by a Thai foreign minister in 30 years.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), the cooperative framework for countries in the Asian region set up by Thailand in 2005 to promote closer economic cooperation among Asian economies. It also includes major economies in the Middle East. The ACD headquarters is in Kuwait City.
During the ACD summit in Bangkok in 2016, Prayut held talks with Saudi Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come
The Saudi Space Commission was launched in Dec. 2018 under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda
The state-funded body has struck cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency, UK, France and Hungary
Updated 23 January 2022
JEDDAH: More than half a century ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the surface of the moon. Since this historic milestone, governments, scientists and now entrepreneurs have set their sights on more distant and ambitious goals.
From Jeff Bezos’ forays into space tourism with Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s dream of establishing colonies on Mars to NASA’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the UAE’s Hope probe mission to Mars, space, it seems, is once again all the rage.
The Apollo astronauts’ momentous moonwalk of July 20, 1969, marked the culmination of more than a decade of breakneck scientific advance, fueled by the fierce Cold War-era contest between the US and the Soviet Union known as the “space race.”
Decades later, and with the benefits of vastly superior technologies, private sector finance, and a global profusion of scientific and engineering talent, a new space race led by the world’s emerging economies and wealthiest individuals is now underway.
A recent entrant in this new space race is the Saudi Space Commission, or SSC, launched three years ago by royal decree — its mission: To accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private sector participation in the global space industry.
Since its launch in December 2018, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with the European Space Agency, the UK, France, and Hungary to further cooperation.
The agency has also signed agreements with aerospace giant Airbus, joined the International Astronautical Federation, and launched illustrious scholarship programs to allow Saudi students to attend the world’s best universities offering courses in space sciences and aerospace engineering.
Although its space agency is relatively new, the Kingdom has a long history of involvement in satellite technology, much of it emanating from the King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia also played a key role in the Arab League’s formation of Arabsat, a satellite communications company, which launched its first satellite in 1985.
“The beauty is that you’re not starting from zero,” Col. Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Even NASA, when they were formed in the late 1950s, they weren’t starting from zero. NACA, which was the predecessor to NASA, had been around since the 1920s, when the government recognized that aeronautics was coming.”
Hadfield is well known for his hugely popular video segments depicting life aboard the ISS, which famously included a zero-gravity guitar rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."
A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer and pilot, his many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was also named the top test pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Hadfield has flown three space missions, building two space stations, performing two spacewalks, crewing the Shuttle and Soyuz, and commanding the ISS.
Now retired, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, an adviser to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, board chair of the Open Lunar Foundation, and the author of three international bestsellers. His TED talk on fear has been watched 11 million times.
In Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration.
“The real key is to have a clear purpose for what the space agency is trying to accomplish, aims that are in line with serving the people of Saudi in the short and long term,” he said.
The ISS remains a potent symbol of human fraternity as well as the huge technological and scientific possibilities on offer when societies work toward a common end.
The space station’s history began on July 17, 1975, when Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and American astronaut Deke Slayton shook hands in microgravity, having docked their spacecraft high above the French city of Metz.
The handshake was the byproduct of a 1972 agreement between the two nations to cooperate on the Apollo-Soyuz Test project. The US built a docking module for the Apollo shuttle that was compatible with the Soviet docking system to allow a flawless rendezvous.
Their meeting became a powerful symbol of unity, which paved the way for the joint Shuttle-Mir program and later the ISS itself.
Building a space agency is no easy feat. As a multidisciplinary domain, the industry demands a wide range of skills and expertise. Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in the sector and already has several achievements to its name.
In February 2019, the Kingdom launched its first domestically developed communications satellite — SGS-1 — from the Guiana Space Center. The launch was the result of a partnership between KACST and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $2.1 billion in the space program as part of its Vision 2030 reform agenda, the Kingdom’s long-term plan to diversify its economy away from oil and embrace a wide array of next-generation industries.
“In the time we live in now, space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, touching every aspect of our lives on Earth,” Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space, said at the time.
“Space business and the space economy are expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward. We believe there are a lot of opportunities that exist in the space sector and we, in Saudi Arabia, intend to tap these opportunities at all levels.”
In order to excel in space, the Kingdom will need an army of technical specialists in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, avionics and robotics, together with experts in propulsion, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
“If you look right across the world’s governments, there’s some subset that is working in the areas that are naturally space related, like telecommunications, atmospheric physics, weather forecasting or the military side of threats; there’s always the high ground advantage,” Hadfield told Arab News, highlighting the benefits of building a domestic space industry.
“It’s scientific in just trying to understand the Earth better. If you can go around (Earth) 16 times a day, if you can set a geostationary satellite that is looking at the whole (Arabian) peninsula, that whole part of the world, there is a huge amount of information to be gathered that is really difficult to gather from the surface.
“Then there is the technological development side. If you’re going to challenge yourself to build a satellite or build rocket ships or train people to fly to space or be part of the space station, start setting up a permanent human habitation on the moon, that’s a big technological challenge and that is good for the country from the academic side right through to the manufacturing side.”
But more than the obvious economic, scientific and strategic benefits, Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations.
“Apart from the scientific research and the technical development, it is raising people’s eyes beyond the horizon,” he said.
“Space exploration has a significant role in inspiring people to visualize a different future, to attempt things with their own lives, to train themselves to gain a new set of skills and turn themselves into somebody different in pursuit of being an astronaut that otherwise they might never have done with themselves. That, to me, that’s an important component.”
Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. Its willingness to work with other space agencies is also a foretaste of exciting collaborations to come.
Reflecting on his own career in space, Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration.
“It’s a life of service,” he said. “Service to agency, service to country and service to others.”
When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space
The planting of more wild trees will be carried out by staff from the center, along with workers from environmental associations and organizations. The program will be implemented in phases. (Supplied)
Saudi National Parks Program will benefit environment, communities and tourism, organizers say
The program, launched this month, includes plans to establish 100 national parks within five years and showcase the Kingdom’s natural splendor and treasures
Updated 22 January 2022
MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia’s recently launched National Parks Program will benefit the environment and local communities, and provide a boost to sustainable tourism and by attracting local and foreign visitors, according to the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification.
The program, unveiled by the center this month, includes plans to establish and enhance 100 national parks within five years and showcase the Kingdom’s natural splendor and treasures. It also includes the planting of 50 million trees as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.
Abdul Rahman Al-Dakhil, a spokesman for the center, said that the program will help to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project and the Saudi Green Initiative.
He added that the center will promote and develop the parks program by supporting afforestation efforts and sustainable ecotourism initiatives, while helping to protect the environment in partnership with governmental organizations.
“The program will be implemented in phases, whereby the first phase will target 100 national parks and turn them into sustainable landmarks, followed by other phases and goals,” Al-Dakhil told Arab News.
• The program, unveiled by the center this month, includes plans to establish and enhance 100 national parks within five years and showcase the Kingdom’s natural splendor and treasures. It also includes the planting of 50 million trees as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.
• Some areas of land allocated for the development of national parks have special historical, cultural, geological or archaeological significance. The project includes some of the most important sites in the Kingdom, including the Edge of the World, which is located northwest of Riyadh and was formed about 180 million years ago, and the ancient Muawiyah Dam, also known as Saysad Dam.
“Achieving tourism and environmental balance is one of the most important criteria while developing any park.”
The planting of more wild trees will be be carried out by staff from the center, along with workers from environmental associations and organizations.
Some areas of land allocated for the development of national parks have special historical, cultural, geological or archaeological significance. The project includes some of the most important sites in the Kingdom, including the Edge of the World, which is located northwest of Riyadh and was formed about 180 million years ago, and the ancient Muawiyah Dam, also known as Saysad Dam.
Abdulrahman Alsoqeer, chairman of the Environmental Green Horizons Society, said that the Kingdom is experiencing an environmental renaissance, focused on preserving vegetation and expanding afforestation efforts, that is attracting global attention. The National Parks Program is part of this green renaissance, he added.
“Allocating lands for national parks is an important primary step in protecting the vast areas of government lands that are scattered and untapped, and converting them into vast vegetation reserves,” Alsoqeer told Arab News.
He said that there are a number of benefits to establishing and maintaining national parks, including the restoration of vegetation cover that has deteriorated drastically in the recent decades. It can also improve the quality of life by reducing the intensity of dust storms, improving the climate, and enhancing the visual landscape with the addition of more greenery.
In addition, a number of products can be derived from the plants cultivated in the parks, including honey provided by bees that will thrive among the wild plants.
Local communities in the vicinity of the parks will also benefit from increased employment and investment opportunities, enhanced biodiversity, the protection of endangered plant and animal species, and the enhancement of ecotourism and recreation options.
The Italian flautist Andrea Griminelli also joined Bocelli for a mesmerizing duet
Updated 23 January 2022
ALULA: Singing at AlUla is “one of my favorite experiences,” the world’s favorite tenor said after another memorable concert in the ancient desert city.
Andrea Bocelli performed to a packed auditorium on Friday in the iconic mirrored Maraya venue, and millions more watching live on TV and online.
“It is always an incredible experience to sing in the middle of the desert in AlUla,” he said. “Coming from the noise and chaos of the big city, it is an educational experience for me to find myself in this idyllic and peaceful place away from the world.”
It was Bocelli’s fourth performance at Winter at Tantora, the Kingdom’s original music and cultural festival. He was accompanied on stage by Italy’s Asti Symphony Orchestra and sopranos Christine Allado, Serena Gambero and Clara Barbier Serrano.
The Italian flautist Andrea Griminelli also joined Bocelli for a mesmerizing duet that sparked rapturous applause and had the audience calling for more.
Winter at Tantora, one of four festivals under the AlUla Moments banner, continues until Feb. 12.
First phase to document the path of Prophet’s journey completed
The initiative is part of the preparations to inaugurate Jabal Thawr Cultural Center in Makkah, which seeks to enrich and broaden tourists’ experience
Updated 22 January 2022
MAKKAH: The organizers of “Rihlat Muhajir” (An Emigrant Journey) have announced that the first phase of the initiative to document the path of the Prophet’s emigration has been completed.
The work with specialists and researchers in the Prophet’s biography is part of the preparations to inaugurate the Jabal Thawr Cultural Center in Makkah, which seeks to enrich and broaden tourists’ experience. This is the aim of Samaya Investment, a company specializing in cultural projects, including national museums, exhibitions, and activities.
Samaya CEO Fawaz Al-Merhej said the “Muhajir” initiative is documenting the path of the Prophet’s emigration using modern technology in aerial documentation and panoramic photography 360.
He said that in the first phase, which was launched on Dec. 20 last year, the team sought all the locations that were cited on the path of the Prophet’s emigration, starting from Cave Thawr on Mount Thawr in Makkah, passing through 40 stations all the way to Quba Mosque in Madinah.
He said the idea of documenting the route came up when they were considering how to present the story of the Prophet’s migration in the Jabal Thawr Cultural Center.
Documentation of the path was mainly done by panoramic photography 360. During the second stage the migration of the Prophet will be digitally documented using 4K drones based on the locations’ coordinates.
The biggest challenges they faced, he said, were the bumpy roads, and the fact that some historical sites had their names changed over time.
A number of scholars specialized in Islamic history and the Prophet’s biography helped in this investigation, including Professor Mohammed bin Samil Al-Salami and Professor Saad bin Musa Al-Musa, of the Department of History and Islamic Civilization at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, and Professor Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Suwaiket and Professor Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim Al-Omari, of the Department of History and Civilization at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, who are also members of the scientific committee of the Atlas Biography of the Prophet. Professor Abdullah bin Mustafa Al-Shanqiti, specialized in the landmarks of Madinah and the Prophet’s Biography, also participated in some stages of the project.