Saudi delegation takes its place at 4th annual G20 Space Economy Leaders meeting in India

Saudi delegation takes its place at 4th annual G20 Space Economy Leaders meeting in India
Mohammed Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Agency, is leading the Kingdom’s team at the two-day fourth G20 Space Economy Leaders Meeting in India. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 07 July 2023
Follow

Saudi delegation takes its place at 4th annual G20 Space Economy Leaders meeting in India

Saudi delegation takes its place at 4th annual G20 Space Economy Leaders meeting in India
  • Participants at the 2-day gathering will discuss ways to enhance the role of the space economy and its tangible contributions to efforts to address global challenges

RIYADH: A Saudi delegation is taking part in the fourth G20 Space Economy Leaders Meeting, which began on Thursday in Bengaluru, India.

Mohammed Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Agency, is leading the Kingdom’s team at the two-day gathering, during which participants will discuss ways to enhance the role of the space economy and its tangible contributions to efforts to address global challenges and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The delegates include representatives of space agencies and related organizations from G20 member states, along with invited guests from other countries and the heads of international and regional organizations.

Speaking during the meeting, Al-Tamimi said the spirit of cooperation and optimism that is entrenched in the annual gathering has become the shared trait of global space activities and endeavors. It is a trait that will continue to shape humanity’s long-term future in terms of how it makes use of the space sector and its applications, he added.

He also extended thanks to authorities in India and officials from the Indian Space Research Organization for hosting the important meeting.

The Kingdom is working to promote the cooperative goals of the meeting, in line with its commitments as a signatory to the Artemis Accords, which serve as a guide for sustainable civil space exploration, and its contributions to efforts to implement the practical aspects of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Al-Tamimi said.

The annual meeting is one of the results of the Kingdom’s presidency of the G20 in 2020, during which it was placed on the group’s agenda for the first time in an effort to enhance space-related cooperation between countries to maximize the benefits of the space economy and the utilization of associated data to support sustainable development, food security and global health.


Seeing is believing for these virtual pilgrims

SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

Seeing is believing for these virtual pilgrims

SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
  • Dutch medtech firm offers bedbound worshippers a high-tech Hajj experience

RIYADH: Once a year, millions of Muslims from all walks of life make their way to Makkah to perform one of the five pillars of Islam.

The journey can be demanding, with pilgrims spending days walking long distances. Unfortunately, the taxing experience can lead to injury or health problems, and some are unable to complete the pilgrimage.

Last year, SyncVR Medical partnered with King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah to bring their virtual reality application, SalaamVR, to injured and hospitalized pilgrims, allowing them to experience a virtual Makkah. The project is expected to continue in KAMC in Jeddah this year.

SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)

Floris van der Breggen, CEO of SyncVR Medical, told Arab News: “We work with quite a few different countries, including Germany, UK, Denmark, etc. I think the openness from the people in Saudi Arabia was the most open mindset that I have experienced.

“If someone uses the technology for the first time, they don’t only see the value of what they’re seeing at that moment, but they also see the future.”

Overseen by a nurse, patients using the technology are immersed on the road to Makkah, seeing all the relevant Hajj spots such as Muzdalifa, Mina, Mount Arafat, and the Kaaba, which they witness from sunrise to sunset while surrounded by other virtual pilgrims.

HIGHLIGHTS

• SyncVR Medical was one of many companies that took part in the 2023 HealthTech Innovation Summit and Expo in Riyadh.

• Patients scored SalaamVR tech an average of 8.9 for the extent it enhanced their sense of relaxation and well-being.

The whole trip takes no more than 10 minutes, after which they are offered an opportunity to virtually visit other places in the world, swim with dolphins, or venture into a jungle.  

Pilgrims can receive medical attention, while also enjoying Hajj experience.

When tested on pilgrims who sought medical treatment for extreme fatigue or dehydration, infections, or even sprained ankles, the pilot program’s results were promising.

Of the overall patients’ questionnaire scores, the average was 8.86/10 for how likely they are to use extended reality as a preferred method for pain and stress management in future medical procedures.

Patients also scored the technology an average of 8.9 for the extent of the XR experience to enhance their sense of relaxation and well-being.

SyncVR also facilitates the introduction of virtual and augmented reality in healthcare, with education apps that supplement staff education, surgery and anatomy training, nursing simulation training, and patient education.  

“People are very keen to influence things (here) and are way less conservative than other countries,” van der Breggen said.

“What has been really challenging is the key innovation hurdle, which is that you’ve shown that (the technology) works, everyone has that thirst about it, it can basically be used tomorrow. But then it still needs to come into clinical practice; management needs to accept it. That just takes quite a long time.”

The medtech company was established five years ago with the aim of using virtual reality to enhance social experiences, and broaden the technology’s sphere beyond the video gaming industry.

One of its first projects was designed for cancer patients, using the technology to alter their emotional state while undergoing chemotherapy.

“Of course, these patients are overwhelmed by their cancer, thinking about their life and how to spend it. What we did was provide VR headsets, and it worked so positively there. Instead of patients being completely silent and in a negative state, they were uplifted and started talking to each other and escaped those negative thoughts,” van der Breggen said.

“Their life, however long or short it will be, can be really meaningful, and that’s what a virtual reality experience can bring.”

SyncVR Medical was one of many companies that took part in the 2023 HealthTech Innovation Summit and Expo in Riyadh, where it exhibited an all-in-one application platform to help patients. From hardware to software, the company’s products can help with pain anxiety, stress reduction, rehabilitation, and medical education through immersive simulations.

Originally based in one hospital in the Netherlands, SyncVR Medical now supplies 200 hospitals across Europe with its health technology, and aims to be the largest platform for extended reality healthcare on the continent. The SalaamVR application is the firm’s introduction to the Saudi market.

“This technology, by giving a completely different experience and taking them to a new world, has a primary effect on the brain. That effect is the same in the Netherlands as it is in Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia or Vietnam. The market (in Saudi) may be a bit smaller, but that’s where we’d have an impact,” van der Breggen said.

 


Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges
Updated 3 min 54 sec ago
Follow

Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges
  • Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient

JEDDAH: Every year, more than 2 million people visit Saudi Arabia to perform the sacred ritual of Hajj, leading to challenges in transportation, crowd management and communication. In response, Saudi Arabia has leveraged hackathons and adopted innovative technological solutions to tackle these obstacles.

A hackathon is a collaborative event, typically a multi-day challenge, in which programmers, designers and project managers work intensively on software projects.

Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

These events might focus on a variety of topics, such as developing new software, devising inventive solutions to specific difficulties or exploring cutting-edge technologies. Participants form teams to brainstorm ideas, build prototypes and create working software or hardware projects within a set time window.

Hackathons are commonly organized to foster creativity, innovation and teamwork, often leading to the creation of new products, services or tools.

The first-place team of the Hajj and Umrah Challenge won SR50,0000 ($13000) for their creative application titled: Makkah Story in 2023. (Supplied)

In 2018, Jeddah hosted Hajj Hackathon, the largest hackathon in the Middle East with thousands of developers and 18,000 enthusiasts participating. Organized by the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones, the event set a Guinness World Record for the largest number of participants.

The first Hajj Hackathon in the region attracted top programmers to innovate technical solutions, improving pilgrims’ experience and fostering profitable projects. It reflects Saudi Arabia’s commitment to innovation, aiming for regional and global tech leadership, supporting young talents and achieving Vision 2030 goals.

FASTFACTS

• The Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon in April this year attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

• The event included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions.

Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, was appointed as the Saudi TechHub platform ambassador at the time.

Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

In the first season of the Hajj Hackathon, the Turjuman app achieved first place, winning the coveted SR1 million ($266,000) prize pot. Developed by a group of Saudi women, the app offers translation of signs and guide boards in Makkah and the holy sites without the use of the Internet. The Hajj Wallet app took second place, winning SR500,000, and the Ru’ya app came third, winning SR350,000.

Turjuman assists pilgrims in their own languages, created by five Saudi women united by a common goal: Samaher Al-Hadhli, Raghda Qadhi, Bayan Al-Ghamdi, Rawan Al-Matrafi and Reham Marghalani.

By the next Hajj season in 2019, Turjuman became a helpful tool supporting 10 languages — Indonesian, Malay, Filipino, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, French, Russian, Turkish and English — and featuring more than 400 signboards distributed across Mina, Muzdalifa, Arafat and the Grand Mosque.

People attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. (AFP file photo)

During the challenging years of 2020 and 2021, the Kingdom leaned heavily on modern technologies, especially facing the challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Hajj season stood out due to the government’s extensive measures to prioritize pilgrim safety and curb the spread of the virus. Pilgrim numbers were significantly reduced and restricted to individuals within the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah introduced the Eatmarna application during this critical period. The application simplified Umrah and visitation procedures over two years, where it issued 43,432,985 Umrah permits. Drawing users from 213 nationalities, it also facilitated 6,363,288 permits for prayer in the Rawdah Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque.

In 2022, Eatmarna was replaced by the Nusuk, which eased the process for pilgrims worldwide, simplified electronic visa procedures and enhanced pilgrims’ experiences. Nusuk remains the primary application for these purposes.

The effects of technological innovations on the cultural and spiritual aspects of the Hajj refer to how new technologies developed during these hackathons impact the experience of pilgrims. These innovations can enhance various aspects of the Hajj journey, such as improving safety, providing better access to information and facilitating smoother logistics.

Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient. It provided real-time updates, guidance and essential information that enhanced my overall experience.”

Asia Ahmad, a pilgrim from Sudan who performed Hajj in 2021, said: “Eatmarna revolutionized the way I performed my pilgrimage. It simplified complex procedures, helped me navigate crowded areas, and ensured I didn’t miss any important rituals. Truly a modern marvel for pilgrims.”

As COVID-19 restrictions eased and pilgrims returned to full capacity to perform their rituals by 2022, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Guests of God Service Program, a part of Saudi Vision 2030, launched the second Hajj Hackathon, rebranded as the “Hajj and Umrah Challenge” initiative. This event attracted 1,500 participants and aimed to gather and implement creative ideas to enhance the pilgrim experience through innovative solutions.

The goal was to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to develop technological solutions to improve services for pilgrims. The challenge gathered 40 participants, both in-person and remotely, across six tracks: crowd management, waste management, housing, catering, health, and transportation.

Submissions were narrowed down to 13 by a jury of ministry and tech experts, then to 10 final ideas, with prizes totaling about SR150,000.

Participants attended introductory meetings and workshops to help solve key challenges. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah adopted the top five winning entries and turned them into business accelerators for real-world implementation.

The Ma’alam team from the Technical College for Girls in Makkah won first place in the challenge. Their application guided pilgrims to the holy sites, with plans to expand services to guide tourists, citizens and residents to the Kingdom’s prominent landmarks.

The app introduces pilgrims to historical landmarks by gathering information, converting it into text, recording it as audio and mapping it to coordinates. Pilgrims receive voice notifications about landmarks based on their location, with options for language and voice commentators.

The second Hajj and Umrah Challenge was held in 2023 during the Hajj and Umra Expo, with 300 teams from around the world participating. This challenge aimed to develop technical projects to serve pilgrims, bringing together programmers and innovators to create solutions for the challenges facing the Hajj and Umrah systems.

The focus was on providing innovative solutions in six tracks: providing information related to the pilgrimage journey, food and hospitality, services for people with disabilities, waste recycling, baggage transportation, and guiding the lost.

The first stage involved about 800 contestants, with 11 teams qualifying for the final stage, from which five winning teams were selected for their innovative ideas. The Makkah Story application won the first-place prize pot of SR50,0000.

Raghad Al-Shareef, the leader of the team consisting of three participants and a graduate of business administration from Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, told Arab News: “Makkah Story application focuses on highlighting Makkah’s archaeological landmarks and historical stories, as well as providing tourist guidance for the pilgrim and visitor to offer them an enriching experience.”

“We worked day and night over four days … winning feels indescribably amazing,” she said.

The second-placed team, Mataie, won the SR40,000 prize, while the third-placed team, Ehtiwa, which translates to “contain,” received the SR30,000 award.

The team leader, Jumana Al-Wafi, 22, also from Umm Al-Qura University, told Arab News: “Our idea is about the path of waste accumulation in the holy sites. We came up with the idea of relying on the Haram cameras to support artificial intelligence by detecting waste on the streets or containers by notifying the competent authorities that area A has an 80 percent waste piling, and that action should be taken.”

This year in April, aiming at enriching the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon, a groundbreaking event that attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

The event, which included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions, showcased cutting-edge solutions to enhance the pilgrimage experience.

The winning projects were announced, with the Guide project clinching the top spot for its innovative approach. The “Development of Al-Dira Mosque” project secured second place, while Maalim claimed third in the design and creative thinking category.

In the enrichment, marketing and awareness track, Jawlaty emerged as the winner, followed by Trahalkom in second place and Wasl in third.

In the digitization of the historical heritage category, Ma’alem took the lead, with Nafezat Al-Haramain and DMaps securing second and third place respectively.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah emphasized the importance of the challenge in developing the Kingdom’s youth’s digital capabilities by employing their capabilities and relying on their promising talents.    

 

 


25 arrested for violating Hajj regulations

25 arrested for violating Hajj regulations
Updated 6 min 56 sec ago
Follow

25 arrested for violating Hajj regulations

25 arrested for violating Hajj regulations
  • Offenders apprehended at entrances to Makkah

ARAFAT: The Saudi Ministry of Interior has said that Hajj security forces have apprehended 25 individuals at the entrances to Makkah for violating Hajj regulations and instructions, including performing rituals without a permit. The individuals include seven expatriates and 18 citizens, who were transporting 103 violators.

The seasonal administrative committees of the General Directorate of Passports issued 24 administrative decisions against the offenders. These resulted in a prison sentence of 15 days for each transporter; a financial fine of SR10,000 ($2,666) for each violator transported; public shaming; the deportation of expatriate transporters with a ban on re-entry into the Kingdom for a legally specified period after serving the sentence; and the confiscation of two vehicles used in transportation.

The ministry urged all citizens and expatriates to abide by and comply with Hajj regulations and instructions to ensure that pilgrims can perform their rituals in security, safety and comfort.

Earlier, Djibouti’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dya-Eddine Said Bamakhrama supported the regulations taken by the Saudi government.

He posted on X: “As the ambassador of the Republic of Djibouti and dean of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I, along with the entire diplomatic community, fully support the security, regulatory, and health measures implemented by the Kingdom’s government. These efforts are designed to ensure that pilgrims can perform their pilgrimages in safety and security.

“These measures aim to manage the movement of over 2 million pilgrims residing in and traveling through the holy sites simultaneously. To ensure order and maintain the sanctity of the place, it is necessary to organize the pilgrimage by granting permits to control the Hajj process, thereby ensuring the comfort and reassurance of the pilgrims.

“We commend all these significant measures and services provided by the Kingdom’s government, from the moment the pilgrims arrive and throughout their stay.

“We urge everyone to adhere to these regulations and follow them diligently. As the Almighty says, Hajj is (during) well-known months, so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein (by entering the state of ihram), there is (to be for him) no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing.

“Therefore, anyone who violates this divine rule by turning Hajj into a platform for debate and raising slogans contrary to God’s command is acting against the values and international agreements that countries have committed to in the organization of Hajj.

“Such actions threaten the security, comfort, and peace of all pilgrims. We urge everyone to adhere to the regulations.

“Finally, we ask God Almighty to accept everyone’s good deeds.”


Ukraine peace process will need compromise, says Saudi foreign minister

Ukraine peace process will need compromise, says Saudi foreign minister
Updated 15 June 2024
Follow

Ukraine peace process will need compromise, says Saudi foreign minister

Ukraine peace process will need compromise, says Saudi foreign minister
  • Prince Faisal was speaking at a conference in Switzerland aimed at engineering a peace between Russia and Ukraine

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday that any credible peace talks on the war in Ukraine will need Russia’s participation and that it would involve “difficult compromise.”

Prince Faisal was speaking at a conference in Switzerland aimed at engineering a peace between Russia and Ukraine and he added that Saudi Arabia was committed to helping to bring an end to the conflict.

“We believe it is important that the international community encourage any step toward serious negotiations which will require difficult compromise as part of a road map that leads to peace,” the prince said.

The Saudi minister also stressed that any process leading to peace in Ukraine would need Russian participation.


King Salman, crown prince exchange Eid Al-Adha cables with leaders of Islamic countries

King Salman, crown prince exchange Eid Al-Adha cables with leaders of Islamic countries
Updated 52 min 40 sec ago
Follow

King Salman, crown prince exchange Eid Al-Adha cables with leaders of Islamic countries

King Salman, crown prince exchange Eid Al-Adha cables with leaders of Islamic countries

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday received cables of congratulations from leaders of Islamic countries on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, which begins on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The king and crown prince sent messages of thanks to the leaders for their congratulatory cables.

Hajj pilgrims arrived in Arafat early Saturday morning, the ninth day of Dul Hijjah, and attended the annual Hajj sermon at Namirah Mosque.