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The Top 10 Technology Stories in the Gulf Region for 2017

The Top 10 Technology Stories in the Gulf Region for 2017  

Across the Middle East region, the Gulf countries have led the way in positioning themselves to take full advantage of the technological advancements of the modern world. In this final post of 2017, we bring you a summary, in our view, of what we considered the Top 10 technology stories of the Gulf region in 2017.

1. Dubai Flying Taxis

In 2017, Dubai made a live test of an automated aerial taxi. This is planned to shuttle passengers across the city without a pilot and will be managed by Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA).

The flying taxi is the brain-child of Volocopter, a German specialty manufacturer of autonomous air vehicles.

The news of Dubai’s ambitions of automated self-driving cars first made rounds during the World Government Summit held in the same city in February.

2. Saudi Arabia investment of $45 billion in world's biggest tech fund

Saudi Arabia through its Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced its investment of up to $45 billion in the The SoftBank Vision Fund over the next five years. This makes the fund the world’s largest technology private equity fund raising over $93 billion to invest in areas such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

In addition to Softbank and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the fund’s other investors include UAE’s Mubadala Investment, Apple Inc, Qualcomm, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology and Japan’s Sharp Corp.

This announcement was made during President Donald Trump visit to Riyadh.

3. The launch of UAE’s National Space Programme:

The UAE launched its National Space Programme under which the UAE will prepare local content capabilities in airspace sciences. The mission has ambitions of realizing of the first scientific city on the Red Planet as part of the 2117 Mars programme.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre is responsible for developing National Space Programme in collaboration with international space partners.

4. Amazon Acquisition of Souq.com

In May 2017, global Tech giant Amazon acquired the largest e-commerce company in the Middle East and North Africa, Souq.com for $580 million. Many analysts argue that this deal will shake and change the Middle East ecommerce landscape in a region where digital shopping stands at only 2% of total retail sales but growing at 45% year over year.

5. E-commerce platform Noon.com goes online

Headquartered in Riyadh, E-commerce platform Noon.com is a joint venture project between Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and a number of prominent Gulf investors led by Mr Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties. The company started operations in UAE and Saudi Arabia this year.

Noon promises to host over 20 million products on its platform it calls the region’s “Arabic-first e-commerce platform.”

6. Careem valuation reaches $1 billion

Careem, a ride sharing app started with $100,000 four years ago is worth $1 billion joining the Unicorn status. The elevation of Careem to unicorn status follows an investment of $350 million by Saudi Arabia's state telecoms company and Japanese Internet firm Rakuten. Careem becomes one of only two Unicorns to emerge from the Gulf region, alongside Souq.com

7. Bahrain partners with Singapore to develop a fintech ecosystem

Bahrain partnered with fintech incubator and ecosystem builder Singapore Fintech Consortium (SFC) to establish a fintech ecosystem and regulatory framework in line with its efforts of being a Fintech hub in the gulf region.

This collaboration aims to strengthen links between fintech firms in the Middle East and those in ASEAN region. It will also facilitate the entry of Singaporean fintech companies into Bahrain.

8. UAE Appoints Minister for Artificial Intelligence

In October, UAE demonstrated its technology ambitions by appointing Omar bin Sultan Al Olama as Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence following the Cabinet reshuffle. The minister is charged with enhancing the government performance by investing the latest technologies and tools of artificial intelligence and applying them in various sectors.

9. Careem Invests In Egyptian Transportation Startup Swvl

Ride-sharing service provider, Careem, announced an investment of $500,000 in seed funding in Egyptian bus transportation startup, Swvl. Swvl, is a bus transportation service where users can book and pay their fare through the company’s mobile app.

Swvl started with operations in Egypt and aims to launch to other parts of the world.

10. UAE as most connected country on LinkedIn

The gulf regions continued to make headlines by the UAE ranking as the country with the highest networked professionals on social media platform, LinkedIn. At the time of the report, its members in the UAE had an average of 211 connections.

LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network with 500-million members across 200 countries with 22 million members in the MENA region.

In closing

2017 brought about remarkable milestones characterized by bold ambitions and investments led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The years ahead look promising for a region that is aiming for the full potential of technology.