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Deregulation and User Protection Needed to Create Competitive Arab Tech Scene

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The Arab world needs to fast-track balanced regulation that supports the opportunities created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution while protecting data privacy, if it is to capitalize on the region’s emerging technology scene.

The Middle East and North Africa boasts a growing number of start-ups, with a 31% increase in investments to $900 million in 2018 compared to 2017 across sectors including transport, healthcare and fintech. Such businesses offer the potential for a new wave of economic growth in a part of the world traditionally handicapped by weak infrastructure and a limited industrial base.

“I view the Fourth Industrial Revolution as our opportunity to catch up, as our opportunity to leapfrog and actually get to parity with the rest of the world,” said Mudassir Sheikha, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ride-hailing firm Careem.

Careem has emerged as a poster-child for the Arab digital economy after it was acquired last month by Uber for $3.1 billion – a milestone for Arab tech deal-making. It comes on the heels of the $580 million purchase of Dubai-based e-commerce company Souq by Amazon in 2017.

After steam, mass production and information technology, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing accelerating cycles of innovation, driven by artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology. It offers the promise of new high-tech jobs in a region struggling with high levels of youth unemployment – provided countries can deliver the right educational foundations.

But the rapid pace of change also raises concerns at a time when digital giants such as Facebook are confronted by a growing “techlash” over data privacy. Regional sensitivities over cultural norms add an extra level of complexity.

“It’s a very nuanced situation,” said Wafa Ben-Hassine, Counsel, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Policy at Access Now, who argues that governments in the region must adopt a user-centred framework to ensure privacy and freedom from surveillance and censorship.

Some countries are already moving to embrace the new technological future, with Bahrain – recently selected as the site of new Amazon data centres – having passed a law allowing data stored there by foreign companies to be governed by laws of their home country.

“We think that is going to be a ground-breaking law,” said Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board. “We, of course, have to manage risk but we have to not ignore opportunity.”

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has appointed Omar bin Sultan Al Olama as the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, underscoring the Gulf state’s determination to carve out a niche in the new digital world.

“Not one country is going to lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Al Olama said. “There are going to be hubs of excellence across the world and each hub is going to champion one or two domains – and we want to champion the domain of government, first and foremost.”

For governments and companies alike, the new digital economy will bring pluses and minuses, especially when it comes to employment prospects – a dilemma showcased vividly by Careem, which has created 1 million jobs since it started operating seven years ago, but could also destroy employment with the arrival of autonomous cars.

In practice, Sheikha said, the impact of self-driving cars will be felt more gradually in the Middle East thanks to cheaper labour costs, with driver costs accounting for an average 25% of trip expenses in the region against 80% in the United States.

In region known for its big governments, it is important that regulations do not create stumbling-blocks to optimizing the benefits of technology, according to Murat Sönmez, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Network, World Economic Forum. “We need to make sure we don’t get in the way of the potential.”

And Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, warned that the Middle East simply cannot afford to be left behind. “Those countries that absorb the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution first will be the most competitive countries,” he said. “We have to make sure that countries and regions are not lagging behind.”

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French tech start-up wins EU’s new Industry of the Future Award with raw-materials prowess

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By  HORIZON STAFF

For Yohan Parsa, research director at tech start-up ROSI SAS in France, a relatively small Horizon project has made a big difference for the company and for the European Union’s economic ambitions.

ROSI, which recycles raw materials from end-of-life solar panels, has just received the EU’s first “Industry of the Future Award” for technological research supported by the EU’s Horizon programme.

With 700 000 euros from Horizon Europe, the two-year project advanced the company’s goal to become a world leader in the reuse of silicon and silver from photovoltaic (PV) waste. ROSI plans to open a recycling plant in France early next year and expand into Germany, Italy and Spain afterwards.   

‘It was the transition from the lab to the factory that became possible with the EU support,’ Parsa said in Brussels on 28 September after accepting the award on behalf of ROSI. ‘We can now move to the industrial scale.’

Fine fit

The project, called Ramp-PV and ending this month, ticks a number of key EU policy boxes.

Amid heightened geopolitical tensions, it promises to enhance Europe’s strategic autonomy by extending the domestic availability of valuable raw materials for industries including solar, electronics and batteries.

In reducing industrial waste, the project also helps the European economy to become more sustainable, or “circular”. 

In addition, Ramp-PV bolsters the European Green Deal climate goals. While solar panels produce renewable power needed to counter global warming, their silicon and silver ingredients entail energy-intensive production that is itself a source of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Furthermore, Ramp-PV contributes to European workplace-safety goals by developing low-temperature chemical processes used in recovering the raw materials embedded in solar panels. What’s more, the chemicals are mild kinds that, unlike acid for example, pose fewer hazards.

Young champion

‘We need champions of change and innovation for our industry to continue bringing prosperity for all Europeans,’ Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said when announcing the award. ‘Developing new solutions that save raw materials could not come at a better time.’

Of the two runner-up projects, one focused on digital security for manufacturers, particularly in the aviation, automotive and ship industries. The other centred on robotics in manufacturing and ways to enhance human-robot collaboration.

The Industry of the Future Award recognises EU-funded projects whose results, in the words of the European Commission, ‘make European industry more resilient, sustainable and human-centric.’ To be eligible, a project needs to have started after August 2018.

ROSI, based in Grenoble, was barely in existence then. The company was founded in late 2017 and began the Ramp-PV project in November 2020. It has around 20 employees.

To date, ROSI has been developing the processes and technologies for extracting high-purity materials – copper is another – from photovoltaic waste and reintegrating them into key industries including solar.

Growth chart

By early 2022, the company reached the industrial-equipment test phase and announced a plan to create a factory near Grenoble.

The French plant will recycle 3 000 tonnes a year of solar panels starting in 2023, extracting 90 tonnes of silicon, 30 tonnes of copper and 2.5 tonnes of silver, according to Parsa, who said ROSI’s number of employees would roughly double at this stage.

Within two years, the plant’s recycling capacity for the panels will increase to 10 000 tonnes, he said.

ROSI will integrate recovered silicon back into solar panels while looking for other potential users for this material including semiconductors and batteries, said Parsa. Recovered copper and silver will probably go into industries other than solar, he said.

The company’s expansion plans beyond France will begin in Germany and then extend to Italy and Spain.

‘We are quite advanced in Germany, but it’s not a done deal,’ Parsa said. ‘In all three countries we are looking for partners because we need the help of local players.’

While being coy about the precise timetable for ROSI’s planned ventures outside France, he signalled those – along with the imminent French recycling activity – would have been a more distant prospect without Horizon funding for Ramp-PV.

‘If we had not had the EU support, we would not have reached this point as fast as we did,’ Parsa said. ‘Ramp-PV enabled us to conduct trials on new equipment and accelerated our whole business plan.’  

This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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How shipping can contribute to a more sustainable future

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This year’s theme – ‘New technologies for greener shipping’ – promotes innovation and solutions that support a transition in the sector. Maritime transport represents more than 80 per cent of global trade, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the Day.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine –and the Black Sea Grain Initiative – have highlighted the vital role shipping plays in feeding the world.

Curb shipping emissions

“As shipping continues to connect humanity, it must play an essential part in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and building a fair and prosperous future for people and planet,” he said.

The UN chief stressed that the maritime sector “must accelerate its voyage to decarbonization.” Emissions from shipping are projected to grow considerably unless there is concerted global action, he warned.

“Governments and private companies need to work together to harness innovative technologies such as digitalization and automation and foster a just transition that includes developing countries and promotes renewable energy and alternative fuels,” he said.

“The vessels to be deployed in this decade will determine whether the shipping sector achieves net zero emissions by 2050. Smarter and greener zero emission ships must become the default choice and commercially available for all by 2030.”

Concern for seafarers

The celebrations on World Maritime Day provide a platform to showcase inclusive maritime innovation, research and development, and the demonstration and deployment of new technologies.

This year’s theme opens up a larger conversation about where shipping is headed, and how digitalization and automation can support the sector, said Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“But technological solutions for cleaner, safer and more sustainable shipping must also benefit people,” he stressed. “In this regard, the impact on seafarers and other marine personnel, including the need for training, must be considered.”

The theme also entails support for developing nations, particularly small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

Saving lives at sea

In related developments, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is using the Day to underscore the importance of marine meteorology to ensure safety at sea.

WMO has released a new publication and video showcasing how it works with partners, including national meteorological services and IMO, in providing forecasts and early warnings to save lives.

The growing impacts of climate change and more extreme weather are making marine meteorological services more critical than ever before, according to the UN agency.

“This has been underlined yet again by a recent succession of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Northwest Pacific, which have led to hazardous shipping conditions. Forecasts and warnings are essential to protect vessels, their cargo and sailors,” it said.

WMO is committed to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, known as the SOLAS convention, through the broadcast of meteorological maritime safety information as part of the IMO Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

The SOLAS convention is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.

It was first adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster.

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Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT

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By  MICHAEL ALLEN

Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.

These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.

There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.

Small devices

Many of these devices are too small to use a long-life battery and they are located in remote or hard-to-access locations – for instance in the middle of the ocean tracking a shipping container or at the top of a grain silo, monitoring levels of cereal. These types of locations make servicing some IoT devices extremely challenging and commercially and logistically infeasible.

Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, summarises the marketplace. ‘It’s projected that we are going to have one trillion sensors in the world by 2025,’ he said, ‘That is one thousand billion sensors.’

That number is not as crazy as it first seems, according to Hayes, who is the coordinator of the Horizon-funded EnABLES project (European Infrastructure Powering the Internet of Things).

If you think about the sensors in the technology someone might carry on their person or have in their car, home, office plus the sensors embedded in the infrastructure around them such as roads and railways, you can see where that number comes from, he explained.

‘In the trillion IoT sensor world predicted for 2025, we are going to be throwing over 100 million batteries everyday into landfills unless we significantly extend battery life,’ Hayes said.

Battery life

Landfill is not the only environmental concern. We also need to consider where all the material to make the batteries is going to come from. The EnABLES project is calling on the EU and industry leaders to think about battery life from the outset when designing IoT devices to ensure that batteries are not limiting the lifespan of devices.

‘We don’t need the device to last forever,’ said Hayes. ‘The trick is that you need to outlive the application that you’re serving. For example, if you want to monitor a piece of industrial equipment, you probably want it to last for five to 10 years. And in some cases, if you do a regular service every three years anyway, once the battery lasts more than three or four years that’s probably good enough.’

Although many devices have an operational life of more than 10 years, the battery life of wireless sensors is typically only one to two years.

The first step to longer battery life is increasing the energy supplied by batteries. Also, reducing the power consumption of devices will prolong the battery. But EnABLES is going even further.

The project brings together 11 leading European research institutes. With other stakeholders, EnABLES is working to develop innovative ways to harvest tiny ambient energies such as light, heat and vibration.

Harvesting such energies will further extend battery life. The goal is to create self-charging batteries that last longer or ultimately run autonomously.

Energy harvesters

Ambient energy harvesters, such as a small vibrational harvester or indoor solar panel, that produce low amounts of power (in the milliwatt range) could significantly extend the battery life of many devices, according to Hayes. These include everyday items like watches, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, hearing aids, carbon dioxide detectors, and temperature, light and humidity sensors.

EnABLES is also designing the other key technologies needed for tiny IoT devices. Not content with improving energy efficiency, the project is also trying to develop a framework and standardised and interoperable technologies for these devices.

One of the key challenges with autonomously powered IoT tools is power management. The energy source may be intermittent and at very low levels (microwatts), and different methods of harvesting supply different forms of power that require different techniques to convert to electricity.

Steady trickle

Huw Davies, is chief executive officer of Trameto, a company which is developing power management for piezo electric applications. He points out that energy from photovoltaic devices tends to come in a steady trickle, while that from piezoelectric devices, which convert ambient energy from movements (vibrations) into electrical energy, generally comes in bursts.

‘You need a way of storing that energy locally in a store before it is delivered into a load, so you need to have ways of managing that,’ Davies said.

He is the project coordinator of the Horizon-funded HarvestAll project, which has developed an energy management system for ambient energy dubbed OptiJoule.

OptiJoule works with piezoelectric materials, photovoltaics and thermal electric generators. It can function with any of these sources on their own, or with multiple energy harvesting sources at the same time.

The goal is to enable autonomous sensors to be self-sustaining. In principle, it’s quite simple. ‘What we are talking about is ultra-low powered sensors taking some digital measurement,’ said Davies. ‘Temperature, humidity, pressure, whatever it is, with the data from that being delivered into the internet.’

Integrated circuits

The HarvestAll energy management integrated circuit device adjusts to match the different energy harvesters. It takes the different and intermittent energy created by these harvesters and stores it, for instance in a battery or capacitor, and then manages the delivery of a steady output of energy to the sensor.

Similarly to the EnABLES project, the idea is to create standardised technology that will enable the rapid development of long battery life/autonomous IoT devices in Europe and the world.

Davies said that the energy management circuit works completely autonomously and automatically. It is designed so that it can just be plugged into an energy harvester, or combination of harvesters, and a sensor. As a replacement for the battery it has a significant advantage, according to Davies, because ‘It will just work.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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