Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims

Special Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims

Successful test flight of electric taxi opens up new vistas for transportation of Hajj pilgrims
  • Self-driving electric vehicles could be shuttling pilgrims from Jeddah to Makkah by 2026
  • Saudi Arabia aims to become the first country to operate the sustainable transport technology

JEDDAH: Not so long ago, the very notion of flying cars was considered pure science fiction. However, a recent public demonstration in Saudi Arabia has shown that the technology is not only real, but could soon become a staple of the public transport and logistics network.

Officials from the Kingdom’s Ministry of Transport and Logistics, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, and the Ministry of Hajj gathered in the Saudi city of Makkah on June 12 to watch what was billed as the first successful test flight of a self-driving aerial taxi.

The EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle took off in an autonomous trial designed to showcase its potential for transporting pilgrims between the holy sites, facilitating emergency travel, delivering medical equipment, and providing logistical services.

It is the world’s first air taxi licensed by a civil aviation authority.




The EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, the minister of transport and logistics and chairman of GACA, said the air taxi trial is part of the Kingdom’s broader initiative to provide the latest transport technologies.

“The trial was done in order to make sure the air taxi could provide services during the Hajj season,” Al-Jasser told Al Arabiya, speaking from inside the aerial vehicle.

“Pilotless and controlled from the ground, this aircraft fits in two people and can fly without fuel for a distance of up to 40 km, powered only by electricity, in full compliance with all safety parameters.”




Saudi Transport and Logistics Minister Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser (center front) watch as the electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

The trial provided valuable insights and data to support GACA’s development of an advanced air mobility road map, including a regulatory framework tailored to provide safe and sustainable air transport solutions for Hajj pilgrims.

Al-Jasser said further trials and experiments would be carried out in future to allow the vehicle to fly over a longer distance and with increased speed.

“We are following up on all the technologies available in order to be among the first countries that can benefit from these services, particularly in serving Hajj pilgrims,” Al-Jasser told Al Arabiya.

The Ministry of Transport and Logistics plans to roll out the new electronic vertical take-off and landing models, or eVTOLs, by 2026. Once up and running, passengers will be able to travel between Jeddah and Makkah in less than 20 minutes.

“This groundbreaking trial is a pivotal step towards a faster, more efficient, and sustainable Hajj travel,” Al-Jasser said in a statement. “Saudi Arabia is leveraging pioneering technologies to empower pilgrims with a seamless and sustainable pilgrimage experience.”




Saudi Transport and Logistics Minister Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser (right) and Lt. Gen. Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Bassami, director of public security, try the electric aerial vehicle during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

In doing so, Saudi Arabia aims to support a modern transport sector in line with the goals of Vision 2030 — the Kingdom’s economic diversification agenda.

Flying taxis are not the only technology developed under the Kingdom’s national transport and logistics strategy. Electric road vehicles and hydrogen-powered trains are also revolutionizing how the public and cargo will get from A to B.

Alongside the deployment of new vehicles, Al-Jasser said his ministry is developing smart mobility, drafting legislation and regulations, and providing experimental environments to test their real-world application.

These and other innovations, including AI-controlled traffic-management cameras and drones, are expected to help reduce passenger travel times in congested areas, particularly during emergencies, facilitate the transport of goods and medical supplies, and speed up surveillance and inspection tasks.




The EH216-S eVTOL pilotless electric aerial vehicle takes off during a trial flight in Makkah on June 12. (SPA)

Speaking after last week’s demonstration, Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of GACA, said he and his department are committed to developing services that will allow pilgrims to perform their rituals with ease.

“This air taxi trial marks a major advancement in integrating advanced air mobility solutions into Saudi Arabia’s aviation landscape,” he said in a statement.

“GACA is committed to enabling new safe and sustainable forms of air transport, elevating travel for pilgrims and passengers across Saudi Arabia. This trial acts as a proof of concept for multiple use cases and contributes to the advancement of mobility solutions across the Kingdom.”

He added: “We appreciate the instrumental support of Front End and EHang to mark this historic milestone for Saudi Arabia.”

Front End, a leader in integrating advanced technologies across various sectors, was the Saudi company behind last week’s demonstration, supported by its Chinese partner, EHang, a leading urban air mobility technology platform company.




A pilotless EH216-S eVTOL electric aerial vehicle is displayed at the Front End Limited Co.'s showroom. (LinkedIn photo)

“Front End is paving the way to a new era in smart mobility solutions, potentially revolutionizing Hajj transportation,” Majid Al-Ghaslan, the firm’s CEO, said in a statement.

“Aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, our purpose is to foster a ‘Connected Kingdom,’ serving as a gateway for our partners to access growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

“This achievement stands as a testament to the power of government-private partnerships in accelerating new technology adoption. Partnering with EHang made this pioneering solution a reality.”

He added: “These eco-friendly marvels offer a cost-effective solution for urban transportation, tackling congestion while aligning perfectly with the Kingdom’s goals for a sustainable future. This advancement underscores Front End’s dedication to national progress and its commitment to shaping a greener, more efficient tomorrow in mobility.”

Also speaking after last week’s demonstration, Huazhi Hu, founder, CEO, and chairman of EHang, said: “This debut flight of the EH216-S pilotless eVTOL in Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone in EHang’s ongoing internationalization and an important step forward in propelling global advanced UAM reform, showcasing the potential of our pilotless eVTOL products and solutions for widespread adoption in the Middle Eastern market.




Still image from a video showing Huazhi Hu, EHang founder, CEO and board chairman, with one of his company's air mobility vehicle in the background. (EHang video)

“Looking ahead, with the strong support of GACA and in partnership with Front End, we will work together to establish a benchmark for regular AAM operations in Saudi Arabia, driving progress in both regional and global AAM markets.”

Saudi Arabia has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into AAM solutions under the Saudi Aviation Strategy, which aims to transform the Kingdom into the Middle East’s leading aviation hub by 2030.

The strategy is unlocking more than $100 billion worth of investment, with passenger numbers growing by 26 percent in 2023 to 112 million.

Saudia, the Kingdom’s flag carrier, has unveiled plans to launch its own air taxis by 2026 to help ferry Hajj pilgrims between King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and hotels in Makkah close to the Grand Mosque. It plans to purchase around 100 aircraft.

The chosen model for these air taxis is the German-made Lilium jet. Although the initial plan is to transport pilgrims, Saudia is also looking at options to connect to various other destinations, contributing to the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector.

The potential for this technology was amply demonstrated in 2021 when NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s new smart city in the Kingdom’s northwest, teamed up with German company Volocopter to establish a joint venture to scale advanced air mobility. They successfully tested a flying taxi in 2023.

Travelers making the Hajj pilgrimage will have to wait until 2026 before they can try out the flying taxis for themselves.
 

 


Saudi border authorities thwart multiple drug-smuggling operations

Saudi border authorities thwart multiple drug-smuggling operations
Updated 19 July 2024
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Saudi border authorities thwart multiple drug-smuggling operations

Saudi border authorities thwart multiple drug-smuggling operations
  • Officers in the Al-Raboah and Al-Farsha areas of Asir seized more than 137000 tablets

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s Border Guard has thwarted several attempts by criminals to smuggle drugs into the country, the Saudi Press Agency reported late Thursday.

Officers in the Al-Raboah and Al-Farsha areas of Asir seized 125,500 and 11,893 narcotic pills, respectively.

In Asir’s Dhahran Al-Janub area, three Ethiopian nationals were arrested for attempting to smuggle 27 kg of hashish into the country.

The authorities have urged citizens and residents to report any information related to drug smuggling or selling by calling 911 in Makkah, Riyadh and the Eastern Province, and 999 in other regions of the Kingdom.

They can also call the General Directorate of Narcotics Control at 995 or contact via email at [email protected]. All reports will be treated with strict confidentiality.

 


How a Saudi startup is using AI to boost the efficiency and uptake of solar energy

How a Saudi startup is using AI to boost the efficiency and uptake of solar energy
Updated 19 July 2024
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How a Saudi startup is using AI to boost the efficiency and uptake of solar energy

How a Saudi startup is using AI to boost the efficiency and uptake of solar energy
  • OptimalPV addresses the high costs and inefficiency of solar PV systems by leveraging AI in the design phase
  • Its software uses algorithms to determine the optimal number and placement of solar panels on buildings 

RIYADH: Mindful of their carbon footprint, a growing number of people are opting to power their homes and businesses with solar photovoltaic systems rather than traditional energy sources. One Saudi startup is leveraging the power of artificial intelligence to help increase uptake.

Solar PV systems are a type of renewable energy technology that converts sunlight into electricity, making it a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuel-generated electricity. 

Despite the numerous benefits of transitioning to solar energy, including cost savings on electricity bills and greater environmental sustainability, the upfront investment required can be a significant barrier to wider adoption.

Abdulelah Habib, CEO and founder of OptimalPV, a distributive solar design startup founded in 2023, told Arab News that the high capital cost for solar systems is primarily due to the expensive materials required. 

“This includes high-quality solar panels, inverters, and other essential components,” he said.

With recent advances in technology, solar PV systems are becoming more efficient and cost-effective, making them a popular choice for homeowners and businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and save on energy costs.

From solar panels on rooftops to large-scale solar farms in the desert, Saudi Arabia has embraced renewable energy sources to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. The country aims to install 50 GW of solar capacity by 2030. 

However, if the government wants to make good on its commitment to encourage the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources, it will need to find ways to make the technology more affordable and accessible to the general population. 

“The company was founded to address the challenges of high costs and inefficiency in traditional solar PV system installations, aiming to make solar power more accessible and cost-effective through advanced artificial intelligence technology,” Habib said. 

An AI-equipped robot helps install solar panels. (Shutterstock image)

OptimalPV’s AI-powered software automates the design of solar PV systems by using 3D modeling and optimization algorithms to create the most efficient and cost-effective layout without needing a site visit.

“While the installation and warranty costs are comparatively low, the operation and maintenance costs can be negligible over the 25-year lifespan of the system,” Habib said.

Unlike traditional systems that require manual design and site inspections, OptimalPV’s AI software optimizes the design process to reduce costs

OptimalPV’s AI-powered software automates the design of solar PV systems by using 3D modeling and optimization algorithms. (Supplied)

“The software uses advanced algorithms to determine the optimal number and placement of panels, considering factors like shading, orientation and solar irradiation,” Habib said.

Supported by The Garage, a tech startup incubator hosted by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and the Royal Commission of Riyadh City, the company provides solutions for both residential and commercial buildings. 

By providing information, addressing concerns about cost and installation, and offering incentives for adopting solar energy, OptimalPV encourages more individuals to take advantage of this renewable energy source. 

Not only does it reduce installation costs. OptimalPV also maximizes the return on investment for homeowners. 

“The company’s advanced design optimizes the efficiency and capacity of rooftop solar systems, making them capable of meeting high electricity demands in urban areas like Riyadh,” Habib said.

A new startup, The Garage focuses on local and international startups, scouting and inviting them to join The Garage’s programs and events. (Supplied)

“By optimizing the system design for maximum efficiency, many houses can potentially meet their full electricity needs through PV systems designed by OptimalPV.”

Habib said that by reducing upfront costs and ensuring maximum efficiency, OptimalPV helps homeowners to save more on electricity bills and achieve a quicker payback period.

OptimalPV also supports homeowners, local governments and the private sector throughout the process, from the initial feasibility study to post-installation monitoring. 

“Customers can use an online tool to generate a feasibility report, including expected monthly savings and payback period,” Habib said.

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The company helps customers to find affordable financing options, where they are matched with trusted service providers for installation.

When it comes to post-installation monitoring, OptimalPV monitors the system’s performance to ensure it operates efficiently.

As Saudi Arabia continues to invest in solar energy infrastructure, it is start-ups such as these that are helping to pave the way for a cleaner and more environmentally friendly energy future.
 

 


Review: Curva Pilates Studio in Alkhobar

Review: Curva Pilates Studio in Alkhobar
Updated 19 July 2024
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Review: Curva Pilates Studio in Alkhobar

Review: Curva Pilates Studio in Alkhobar

There’s a new way to stay fit in Alkhobar this summer with the recent opening of Curva Pilates earlier this month.

The women-only studio is situated on the second floor of an indiscreet building, marked with the letter A on the outside. It is an ideal place to spend an hour using the reformer Pilates machine, either in a solo session or with a group class. There is limited parking directly outside of the studio space.

Pilates, which is a form of exercise developed by the German Joseph Pilates in the 20th century, helps combat health issues and increases flexibility. It was originally designed to help soldiers gain strength by attaching springs to hospital beds to create resistance. If you have ever done yoga or ballet or gymnastics, you might enjoy this process — but it is its own thing.

You may opt to message their account on Instagram, where you will be asked to provide your name and phone number, after which you will receive a welcome message on WhatsApp, with the class details and some ground rules. “For your safety and to keep up our hygiene standards, you should always make sure to wear Pilates socks when taking a class,” it says.

Once entering the serene space, decorated with fresh flowers and the refreshing scent of lemon detox water, which is free for all customers, you will be given an electronic key to a locker where you can securely place your handbag. You can keep the key with you and return it at the end of your visit. There are hooks to hang your abayas and a shoe cubby.

If you do not have Pilates socks you may use regular ones. And, in case you forget to push your hair back, there are hair clips available in the mirror area to use, and wet wipes at the ready, should you wish to freshen-up before or after your session.

You may take a session with Coach Lubna, who is fair and balanced. For first-timers, she asks whether they have any body ailments they need to be aware of — do they have any existing body aches or injuries, any surgeries or issues with their back, shoulders, arms or legs.

Lubna explains every step briefly, and makes the experience enjoyable. The reformer machine is not hard to use and is ideal for any fitness level.

She makes sure to ask for feedback and listens to all comments and concerns. Lubna believes that consistency is what matters most — no matter what level you are on — and recommends visitors try the reformer three times per week.

Reformer classes at Curva can be purchased either per session for SR175 ($46) each, or in a package for a slightly better rate. Five sessions go for SR850, 10 sessions for SR1,650 and two other package options are available — for 15 sessions and 20.

There is a 10 percent discount for college students and a 10 percent discount for Aramco staff.

While it has become a global trend, this enduring form of exercise that emphasizes core strength, flexibility and overall body awareness is not yet widely practiced in the Eastern Province. Curva is there to change that.

Find them at CurvaPilates.com or on their Instagram, @CurvaPilates.


KSrelief runs medical projects in Sudan, Yemen

KSrelief runs medical projects in Sudan, Yemen
Updated 18 July 2024
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KSrelief runs medical projects in Sudan, Yemen

KSrelief runs medical projects in Sudan, Yemen

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s aid agency KSrelief continues to provide healthcare for vulnerable people in Sudan and Yemen, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The project in Port Sudan for urology surgery, from July 13 to 20, involves 11 volunteers with training in various specialities.
The team members have already completed six surgeries.
A similar project is currently being implemented for orthopedic surgery in the Seiyun district of Yemen’s Hadhramaut governorate, with seven operations already completed.
Recently, the agency started a training program for people supervising orphans in Hadramout in coordination with the country’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.


Saudi Red Crescent in Makkah region puts in almost 80,000 volunteer hours during second quarter

Saudi Red Crescent in Makkah region puts in almost 80,000 volunteer hours during second quarter
Updated 18 July 2024
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Saudi Red Crescent in Makkah region puts in almost 80,000 volunteer hours during second quarter

Saudi Red Crescent in Makkah region puts in almost 80,000 volunteer hours during second quarter

JEDDAH: The Saudi Red Crescent Authority in the Makkah region revealed its volunteer statistics for the second quarter of 2024, with the number of volunteer hours reaching 79,128.

It said the volunteer opportunities ranged from providing first-aid services to worshippers in the courtyards of the Holy Mosque in Makkah to national occasions, international days, events, humanitarian aid, and sports events.

Additionally, several first-aid courses were held to train male and female volunteers.

The authority indicated that Makkah has the largest number of volunteer initiatives with 273 opportunities, followed by the Jeddah governorate with 207 and the Taif governorate third with 104 opportunities.

The volunteer medical staff included several specialties, most notably consultants, general practitioners, and emergency medicine doctors. The authority emphasized its commitment to developing its volunteers by organizing specialized courses and training them in line with the authority’s mission and work.