Startup of the Week: Edu-tech startup trains young Saudis in robotics

Startup of the Week: Edu-tech startup trains young Saudis in robotics
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Updated 20 March 2022

Startup of the Week: Edu-tech startup trains young Saudis in robotics

Startup of the Week: Edu-tech startup trains young Saudis in robotics
  • Computer scientist Mohammed Alsolami, 35, is on a mission to provide just that with his startup company Robotics LLC

RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia weans itself off a dependence on oil in favor of a more diversified and innovative economy and culture, there is a need for one asset above all: knowledge.

Specifically, knowledge of the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, and their practical application in daily life.

Computer scientist Mohammed Alsolami, 35, is on a mission to provide just that with his startup company Robotics LLC.

Alsolami founded Robotics in 2014 in the US state of Maryland, where he was conducting doctoral research into the use of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things for crowd control, having already gained no less than three master’s degrees from multiple US institutions.

In 2019 he registered a sister company with the same name in Riyadh.

Alsolami is something of an ideas machine. He developed a wrist-worn device which guides an individual through crowded spaces, keeping them in contact with their friends and family while warning of over-congested areas — useful in Makkah during the Hajj season. He also created an ‘agri-tech’ sensor which provides home-growers and farmers with essential data as to when plants and crops need to be irrigated. 

However, Alsolami’s present commercial focus is on the training of young people, aged eight to 22, in the construction and manipulation of robots. 

His training programs, 12 days in duration, were first launched in Makkah with face-to-face classes of no more than 15 students, using curriculum licensed from Woz U — the tech training institute established by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — and other academic sources. All his courses are translated into Arabic, making them accessible to any young Saudi.

In 2020 Alsolami’s enterprise was hit by the COVID 19 epidemic, bringing live training sessions to a sudden halt. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was able to launch his classes online and achieve much more rapid growth, with both trainers and trainees located across the Kingdom. 

Robotics shifted its HQ to Riyadh and presently operates with nine full-time staff along with some forty freelance trainers. The company has delivered over 400 courses to both individual and institutional clients, the latter including the Kingdom’s Royal Commission schools. 

Alsolami and his team are now working hard to make the courses fully automated. “The whole operation should be online by April of this year”, he told Arab News. “Clients will be able to select, pay for and take their course via an online dashboard, the only human contact being with the actual trainer, who will also be online.”

While grounding youngsters in AI and IoT, Alsolami’s courses develop important life skills such as teamwork and leadership — because building and programming a robot, for example to throw a ball, is normally a collaborative activity. 

Because of Covid restrictions, trainees currently work individually, but hopefully once the epidemic has passed, they can form groups in a physical location to build a single, more ambitious robot and enter local and international robotics competitions as a team.

Currently delivering courses to about one thousand trainees per annum, Robotics has turnover of about SR1 million ($270,000). Revenue comes from two sources: course fees — SR1,000 per head — and the online sale of robotics kits, with the hardware currently being sourced from China.

“We’re now looking for pre-seed investment of about $1 million. That will help us to develop the online dashboard, build up our operation to 20,000 clients annually by mid-2025, and to produce our own robotics kits here in the Kingdom and on a much larger scale.”  

Alsolami is confident of achieving this. Most parents he surveyed share his belief that educating young people in amateur robotics will help prepare them for the Kingdom’s future ‘smart’ economy.

“Education always pays the best interest”, Alsolami says. “And with Vision 2030, we at Robotics are focused on building the capacity and supporting the talent of our leaders of tomorrow. This is our KPI and our vision. And this is how we hope to serve our country and serve the world.”


Saudi Arabia launches program to develop cybersecurity sector

Saudi Arabia launches program to develop cybersecurity sector
Updated 10 sec ago

Saudi Arabia launches program to develop cybersecurity sector

Saudi Arabia launches program to develop cybersecurity sector
  • The program will support more than 40 startups through the cybersecurity accelerator and establish more than 20 startups through the cybersecurity challenge. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority on Monday launched the “CyberIC” program to develop the Kingdom’s cybersecurity sector, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The program aims to develop national capabilities in the field of cybersecurity, localize cybersecurity technology through training.

According to the authority, the first phase of the  program includes several initiatives including training of employees of national authorities, accelerating cybersecurity activities to stimulate the sector, and encouraging the development of national cybersecurity products, services and solutions. 

The program will also see the launch of the second version of the cybersecurity challenge and programs for chief information security officers in cooperation with international universities. The courses will include a set of cyber exercises that take place in a virtual environment that simulates real cyberattacks and incidents.

The initiative is based on six main tracks: Innovation and entrepreneurship, cybersecurity officers, cybersecurity trainers, fresh graduates, cybersecurity specialists, and law enforcement agencies. 

The first phase of CyberIC seeks to raise the number of cybersecurity startups in the sector by assisting more than 60 national companies. The program will support more than 40 startups through the cybersecurity accelerator and establish more than 20 startups through the cybersecurity challenge. 

In addition, around 10,000 Saudis in the cybersecurity sector will receive support through CyberIC, including more than 1,500 beneficiaries in national authorities; 150 cybersecurity officials, who will be offered leadership skills training; and more than 5,000 Saudis will be trained through advanced cyber exercises.


Goldman sees strong case for higher oil prices despite negative shocks

Goldman sees strong case for higher oil prices despite negative shocks
Updated 31 min 46 sec ago

Goldman sees strong case for higher oil prices despite negative shocks

Goldman sees strong case for higher oil prices despite negative shocks
  • The investment bank kept its 2023 outlook of $125 unchanged

BENGALURU: Goldman Sachs said the case for higher oil prices was still strong with current supply shortfalls well above its expectations in recent months, despite a recent retreat led by factors including global recession concerns.

The market will remain in unsustainable deficits at current prices and balancing it will still require “demand destruction on top of the ongoing economic slowdown,” the investment bank said in a note dated Aug. 7.

Oil prices hovered near multi-month lows on Monday, pressured by lingering worries about an economic slowdown.

Goldman said a divergence between benchmark Brent prices, which averaged $110 a barrel in June and July, and the corresponding Brent-equivalent global retail fuel price of $160 per barrel was not enough to trigger enough demand destruction to end the supply deficit.

“The unprecedented discount of Brent prices, even wider than we expected, can be explained by the worsening Russian energy crisis, as it boosts the costs of transforming crude out of the ground (Brent) into retail pump prices around the world through surging EU gas prices, freight rates, USD and global refining utilization,” it said.

Goldman trimmed its Brent price forecasts for the third and fourth quarters to $110 and $125 a barrel, respectively, versus previous forecasts of $140 and $130. It kept its 2023 outlook of $125 unchanged.

The investment bank forecast US retail gasoline and diesel prices to rebound to $4.35 and $5.50 per gallon, respectively, by the fourth quarter and average $4.40 and $5.25 in 2023.

“We forecast that US retail fuel prices will rally into year-end then decline from 2Q23 onward as refining and marketing margins start to normalize,” Goldman said.

The US average retail gasoline price hit a peak of $5.02 a gallon in mid-June, data from the American Automobile Association motorist advocacy group showed. 


India may scrap wheat import duty to cool domestic prices, say sources

India may scrap wheat import duty to cool domestic prices, say sources
Updated 44 min 27 sec ago

India may scrap wheat import duty to cool domestic prices, say sources

India may scrap wheat import duty to cool domestic prices, say sources

MUMBAI: India could scrap a 40 percent duty on wheat imports and cap the amount of stocks traders can hold to try to dampen record high domestic prices in the world’s second-biggest producer, government and trade officials told Reuters on Monday.

Late in the day, the Trade Ministry said it would restrict the export of some wheat-derived products like finely milled “maida” and semolina from Aug. 14, with only an inter-ministerial committee allowed to clear their shipment. Exports of the items are generally small.

India barred wheat exports in May after the crop suffered a heatwave, but domestic prices still rose to a record high. Yet, international prices are still way above the domestic market, making it unviable for traders to buy from abroad.

If the government does remove the duty, and international prices also fall, then traders say they could start importing, especially during the upcoming festival season, when higher demand typically drives domestic prices higher.

“We are exploring all possible options to bring down the prices,” said a senior government official who held a discussion with industry officials last week.

New Delhi could scrap the 40 percent import duty and impose stock limits on wholesalers and traders to signal to the market that the government will do everything in its power to keep prices in check, said the official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Domestic wheat prices ended last week at a record 24,000 rupees ($301.57) per ton, having risen 14 percent from lows struck after the government surprised markets on May 14 by banning exports, ending hopes that India could fill the market gap left by missing Ukraine grain.

Domestic prices are still nearly a third lower than global prices, said a Mumbai-based trader with a global trading firm, who described Indian wheat as the cheapest in the world.

India last imported wheat in the April 2017 to March 2018 financial year.

“If global prices fall by another 20 percent and Indian prices continue their rally, then maybe, sometime after a few months, imports might become feasible,” the trader said.

The government has limited options to intervene in the market this year since its procurement has fallen 57 percent to 18.8 million tons, said a New Delhi-based dealer with a global trading firm.


Oil prices hover near multi-month lows on demand worries

Oil prices hover near multi-month lows on demand worries
Updated 31 min 11 sec ago

Oil prices hover near multi-month lows on demand worries

Oil prices hover near multi-month lows on demand worries
  • Russian crude, oil products exports continue to flow ahead of an impending EU embargo

LONDON: Oil prices hovered near multi-month lows on Monday as lingering worries about demand weakening on the back of a darkened economic outlook outweighed some positive economic data from China and the US.

Erasing earlier gains, Brent crude futures were down 55 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $94.37 a barrel by 1331 GMT. US West Texas Intermediate crude was at $88.25 a barrel, down 76 cents, or 0.9 percent.

Front-month Brent prices last week hit the lowest since February, tumbling 13.7 percent and posting their largest weekly drop since April 2020, while WTI lost 9.7 percent, as concerns about a recession hitting oil demand weighed on prices.

“Last week’s price action left no doubt that recession-driven demand concerns have the upper hand over supply fears. One could even go as far as saying the war premium has evaporated,” PVM analyst Stephen Brennock said.

Both contracts recouped some losses on Friday after jobs growth in the US, the world’s top oil consumer, unexpectedly accelerated in July.

On Sunday, China also surprised markets with faster-than-expected growth in exports.

China, the world’s top crude importer, brought in 8.79 million barrels per day of crude in July, up from a four-year low in June, but still 9.5 percent less than a year earlier, customs data showed.

In Europe, Russian crude and oil products exports continued to flow ahead of an impending embargo from the EU that will take effect on Dec. 5.

Last week, the Bank of England warned of a protracted recession in Britain.

Gasoline demand in the US continues to weaken despite falling prices at the pump, and stockpiles are rising.

In terms of US production, energy firms last week cut the number of oil rigs by the most since September in the first drop in 10 weeks.

The US clean energy sector received a boost after the Senate on Sunday passed a sweeping $430 billion bill.


China’s Huawei set to finalize data center location in Saudi Arabia 

China’s Huawei set to finalize data center location in Saudi Arabia 
Updated 08 August 2022

China’s Huawei set to finalize data center location in Saudi Arabia 

China’s Huawei set to finalize data center location in Saudi Arabia 

RIYADH: China’s tech giant Huawei is soon to decide the location of its data center in Saudi Arabia, president of Huawei Cloud Middle East told Gulf News. 

The data center in Saudi Arabia will be Huawei’s second in the Middle East, following Abu Dhabi.

“We are in the final stages of the Saudi decision — the investment decision has already been made,” Frank Dai explained. “All that’s left is where in Riyadh should the facility be built.”

He added: “The Middle East remains central to our vision of how digital transformation can reshape economies, even change the world. This is only the beginning of what data-driven economies can achieve.”