How the Middle East is Becoming an Innovation Hub
The Middle East region is home to some of the most innovative, forward-thinking cities in the world, but also to those who are up-and-coming in terms of future vision. So, as part of our ‘Down in Dubai: UX Inspirations’ series, we wanted to take a closer look at how the different Middle Eastern countries are creating various types of innovative solutions.
Innovation, in its most simple sense, is about creating new solutions and experiences. It has been found time and time again that those who put innovation at the forefront of their thinking tend to outperform and overtake others who stick to the way things have always been. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), an established member of America’s ‘Big 3’ marketing consulting firms, found in their 2020 Most Innovative Companies report that businesses who make innovation a key priority (and invest with this ambition in mind) constantly surpass those who do not. They say that almost 60% of ‘committed innovators’ generate a rising proportion of their sales.
Looking at the area as a whole sum of its parts, the Middle East was once famed for its scientific prowess – their mathematicians were those who invented the zero. However, in more recent history, the region has fallen behind others in many of the innovation pillars, even though various innovation initiatives have been attempted. Research suggests that this was due to low government support, weak institutional frameworks, and inadequate investment. However, with the release of the Global Innovation Index 2022, Middle Eastern innovation is on an upward trajectory. Israel sits in the top 20 countries ranking for innovation, and Turkey (for the first time ever) entered the top 40. Back in 2020, the BCG also stated that the Middle East ranks second only to China in its level of commitment to innovation.
United Arab Emirates
Sitting in 31st position of the Global Innovation Index was the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to some of the world’s most future-centred locations, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Named the ‘city of the future’ it’s interesting that Dubai has such a unique history. Since the discovery of its oil reserves in 1966, Dubai has quickly developed into the place it is today, with a growing focus on stepping away from its dependence on this trade. On its way to becoming a ‘smart city’, it is home to some of the most exciting technological innovations today. One example of this is Expo 2020 – an exhibition which was said to be ‘uniting the world in one place by providing a global experience dedicated to bringing people together, building bridges between communities and nations, and inspiring action and delivering real-life solutions to real-life challenges’.
Another UAE city, this one known for its automotive events, Abu Dhabi has become one of the most well-developed cities in the world. In terms of innovation, there sits the well-respected Technology Innovation Institute (TII), home to the Middle East’s first quantum computer. The TII is a government funded research institution that focuses on applied research within subjects such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and autonomous robotics. Their new AI research centre is said to be central to their work, developing AI technology like drones, robots and automated objects. For example, there is said to be an autonomous boat under development within their robotics lab, which according to this National article, is designed to self-navigate to oil spills and send out groups of ‘robotic “fish” to assess the damage to marine life, all while sending information to drones hovering above to determine a course for clean-up.
Bringing both of these major cities together is one last innovative piece of tech worth mentioning – the Hyperloop. Currently under development between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is a high-speed mass transportation system for both passengers and freight. It is described as a ‘sealed tube or system of tubes with low air pressure through which a pod may travel largely free of friction or resistance. Expected to be ready in the near future, it may become part of our reality by the end of this decade!
Known as the ‘start-up nation’, Israel is a world leader when it comes to the number of start-ups per capita. Almost every multinational tech company in the world has an R&D centre based in Israel, such as: Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple. Interestingly, most of these centres were made as a result of making local acquisitions of Israeli startups. A clear supporter of innovation, it is clear as to why they are one of the top performing Middle Eastern countries.
According to the 2022 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, Tel Aviv is the 7th largest startup ecosystem in the world, and the biggest within the MENA region. One particular industry that is doing incredibly well in this part of the world is food-tech. Israel is becoming a core of food-tech innovation, especially companies based in Tel-Aviv. These companies are working collaboratively alongside leading food manufacturers to quickly advance options in order to meet the evolving needs of today’s consumer, spurred by a desire for nourishing foods. These evolving preferences are spurring a food revolution, and Israel is leading the way. Remilk is just one example of a startup innovating something incredible – they have found a way to produce milk proteins via a yeast-based fermentation process that renders them “chemically identical” to those present in cow-produced milk and dairy products. Essentially, it’s dairy that doesn’t come from cows. They recently garnered an investment round of $120 million, which will go towards opening the “world’s largest” facility to aid in the production of ‘cow-free’ milk.
The name of Qatar has been echoing in the heart of football fans ever since the announcement of it being the host country of 2022 FIFA World Cup. The tournament has ignited not only the football fans, but also the technological innovations within Qatar. The designs of the new tournament stadiums will enable them to save up to 45% of water and energy. As well as this, the IoT platform will assist fans in planning their routes from one stadium to another on match days. The real-time information of traffic and venue status helps fans to arrive on time and avoid missing any second of the game.
Innovative technology is joining the game on the football field, too. Semi-automated offside technology is going to support officials in making fast, accurate decisions. By examining the data captured by 12 tracking cameras underneath the stadium roof, and the data recorded by the sensor within official match balls, AI is able to send offside alerts. This will only take a few seconds compared with the current VAR technology, which takes 70 seconds on average.
Innovation, together with technologies and entrepreneurship, is emphasised in Vision 2030, the blueprint of Saudi Arabia that aims to transform the country into a non-oil-dependent economy. The ultimate goal of the kingdom is to enter into the top 10 ranking of Global Competitiveness Index by 2030. The extensive efforts we have seen so far include staking on the development of AI and building a futuristic city for tourism.
Holding the Global AI Summit in 2020, Saudi Arabia has also demonstrated its determination of being the global pioneer in Industry 4.0. The kingdom believes there is a role for it being a third party, standing out from the intense competition of China and the US. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as the platform for AI innovation over international collaboration. Meanwhile, major construction projects have been seen across Saudi Arabia, among which Neom, a glass-sealed smart city in the making, has attracted the world’s attention. Once completed, Neom is going to be a one-of-a-kind tourist destination, a ‘utopia’ in the Saudi Arabian desert. This will include a 100-mile horizontal skyscraper city, ‘The Line’.
Turkey has pushed itself into the list of the countries of innovation, with developments in multiple facets, in the air and on the ground. Earlier this year, Turkey’s newly launched 5B communication satellite came into the nation’s service, making the number of Turkish satellites hit 10 in total. A made-in-Turkey surveillance satellite is also set to be launched around the same month next year. Turkey is now among a very limited group of countries that have the capability to send two satellites in a year. These are all part of Turkey’s National Space Program, which outlines the country’s ambitious goals in space, including reaching the moon.
Looking back from space to the ground, Turkey’s going to finish the construction of the seventh largest solar power plant in the world, the Karapınar solar power plant. Turkey is actually Europe’s biggest solar panel manufacturer. It’s currently the fourth around the world, aiming to enter the top 3 by 2023. The country’s solar power capacity increased 200 times to more than 8GW from 2014, and under the demand of the government, a large portion of the solar power equipment is sourced from its own Turkish suppliers.
Once the financial hub of the Middle East, Bahrain was known as the offshore banking centre, a place that opened the way for foreign companies to reach Saudi Arabia. However, strong competitors such as Dubai are beginning to overtake Bahrain, forcing the kingdom to reposition itself. To reclaim the title, Bahrain is investing in financial technology innovation, an example being the Bahrain FinTech Bay. Situated in Bahrain’s capital Manama, the Bahrain FinTech Bay is a work space exclusively for fintech innovation, with labs, acceleration programmes and educational opportunities to incubate startups and the ‘next big idea’. Fintech companies can also test products in the regulatory sandbox established by The Central Bank of Bahrain. With the investment, the well-trained workforce and the innovative environment, Bahrain is hoping to become the number one choice of fintech companies.
The Middle East’s ambition and dedication to innovation is making waves all across the globe. We are excited to witness its development in the near future and potentially how Middle-East-born innovations can make the world a better one. Remember to follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter for more content of our Down in Dubai: UX Inspirations series!
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