4IR can help KSA become a global hub for new drone technology


Saudi Arabia could become a global center for new drone technology under plans being advanced by the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) recently inaugurated in Riyadh in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mansour Alsaleh, director of the center, told Arab News that heavy lift drone technology had been prioritized by the Kingdom as one of its 4IR projects. “Saudi Arabia can be a leading country in developing the regulatory framework for heavy-lift drones. It can be ahead of the world,” he said.
Heavy lift drone technology has advanced to a stage where it requires a more sophisticated regulatory framework, he said, not just in the Kingdom but globally, and these are being developed in partnership with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport and Saudi Aramco. “The applications are endless,” Alsaleh said.
Advanced drones have been used to deliver vaccines in Africa in the course of the pandemic, and American drone manufacturers have also been accelerating their efforts to transport heavy loads — up to 500kg depending on the technology — to locations with poor access. Improving the Kingdom’s logistical infrastructure was identified as a priority area of the Vision 2030 strategy, and drones are seen as a key enhancer of existing transport systems.
“By integrating these two mutually supportive components of regulatory transformation and pilot tests, Saudi Arabia can be a model for the rest of the world while supporting its own industrial development and social goals,” the WEF said in a recent report of which Alsaleh was a co-author.

Alsaleh said that the Kingdom had identified 70 opportunities to apply 4IR technologies, and was prioritizing plans in five other areas, apart from drone technology — artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, government data systems, and “smart cities” such as NEOM.
Each potential project goes through four stages, he explained: Identifying and selection; framework development in partnership with other stakeholders; prototyping and testing; and scaling up within a regulatory framework.
At the recent two-day event run from Riyadh to celebrate the inauguration of the 4IR center, many speakers underlined the need for partnership between government and other parts of the economy and society. Alsaleh reinforced that view. “We are looking for an eco-system, involving the public and regulatory sector, along with private industry and research and academia. It is about having the right blend between those areas,” he said.

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