Saudi Arabia calls for innovative startups to solve pressing social issues

The hackathon winners (Image via GE)

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MICT), Small Medium Enterprise Authority (SMEA), GE Digital, and Obeikan Digital Solutions (ODS) joined hands last week to host the Middle East’s largest-ever digital industrial hackathon – the Saudi Digital Machines Hackathon, held under the patronage of HE Eng. Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and IT. The partners challenged more than 50 teams to identify and co-create innovative solutions in three sectors – water, healthcare, and renewable energy. The training and competitive event focused on creating software applications that allow machines to “talk,” giving decision-makers better visibility, thereby increasing efficiency.

In a speech during the ceremony held to honor the winners, Eng. Al-Swaha pointed out that through this event, the Ministry aimed to employ the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), and encourage innovations by the youth to find technical solutions in areas closely related to the lives of citizens such as health, energy, and water. Eng. Al-Swaha added that such activities help to proliferate digital culture, discover the capabilities of creative, young Saudis, and provide the appropriate environment for them and for the development of their proficiencies and innovations.

With over 200 youths, the partners from across the public and private sectors worked together on this milestone event, supporting the digitization of industry and the transfer of concrete coding skills on the Predix platform. Participants attended a rigorous two-day training, which was followed by the competitive hackathon judged by a panel of international industry and digital experts. The event was run by Hobby District, a Saudi-based startup focused on coding, software development, and the skills of the future. Tata Consultancy Services also joined hands as part of their role in the GE Digital Alliance Program to provide Predix mentorship support.

The event was sponsored by Obeikan Digital Solutions (ODS), currently a strategic partner of GE Digital. ODS understands the need to contribute to a strong regional and global ecosystem of software developers to drive revolutionary digital transformation for manufacturing businesses in the Kingdom and the region. This commitment is to enable the industrial sector to be more productive and competitive, to support Kingdom Vision 2030.

Dr. Ahmed Al Theneyan, Deputy Minister of Technology Industry & Digital Capabilities said: “The Saudi Digital Machines Hackathon complements the goals of Vision 2030 to nurture Saudi human capital and to promote a culture of digital innovation that will support the economic and energy diversification initiatives currently being implemented in the Kingdom. With the Internet of Things bringing disruptive innovation and opening doors to unlimited opportunities for industrial innovation, the hackathon aimed to support the skills of youth to become active participants in driving social and economic progress.”

Eng. Saleh Al Rasheed, Governor of SMEA said: “The Saudi Digital Machines Hackathon served as a strong springboard for young Saudi innovators and digital natives to partner in the growth story of the Kingdom. Through intensive mentoring sessions, they gained insights into the Internet of Things for industry and can leverage GE’s Predix platform to co-create solutions. This is a great example of public private sector collaboration to promote human capital and the digitization of industry.”

Eng. Ali Saleh, Chief Commercial Officer, GE Digital Middle East, Africa & Turkey, said: “For this momentous training and hackathon event, we have chosen three core areas – water, renewable energy and healthcare – that are central to the development narrative of the Kingdom. The Industrial Internet of Things has opened doors to limitless possibilities and we want to encourage Saudi youth to be partner in the digital transformation of the Kingdom by building their skillsets. This marks our long-term commitment to the Kingdom and to build a culture of localized innovation that will help address the challenges faced by the community.”

Eng.  Abdallah Obeikan, CEO of Obeikan Investment Group and Obeikan Digital Solutions said: “At Obeikan, our focus is on strengthening productivity, service, and quality through digital solutions. The three core areas selected for the hackathon align with the sustainable and economic development goals of the Kingdom. By involving and encouraging young talents to become participants in digital innovation, we are investing in the future of our Kingdom and our youth. ODS is continuously seeking to develop and hire local talent to effectively participate in the digital future of the kingdom, and the hackathon was a great forum to enable that.”

In the water sector, the challenge was to develop a solution that utilizes water supply and demand data to advise desalination plants on how much water to desalinate. The first-place winner was “Team Lamda,” which developed a solution that keeps energy usage low by giving visibility into consumption, and thus production of desalinated water based on demand. The second-place winner was “Team Star Force,” which created a control panel for the remote control of assets, and called for IOT sensors to monitor water distribution, aquifer levels, rain rate, and water leakage.

For healthcare, the challenge was to use anonymized patient medical record data from hospitals, to create a universal records system. “Digital Team” was awarded first prize for their solution built on the Predix cloud, which migrated all hospital data to one normalization database. The second-place team was “Team D’coders,” which created a solution to combine all hospital databases together and provide the Ministry of Health with an interface showing quality of healthcare facilities and the general health of the population.  

Regarding the energy sector, the hackathon challenge focused on renewables and asked participants to create a dashboard for a wind farm that provides the user with meaningful data. “Team Digitrans” created PreWindix, a solution that shows operators how to best utilize their wind turbines by tracking key performance indicators, allowing for predictive maintenance and enhanced operations. “Team PSAU” was awarded second place for the creation of a digital solution that can predict future energy needs and modify production accordingly in real time.

The first place and second place winners in each of the three categories received a mixture of cash prizes and opportunities for additional training to become fully certified on the Predix platform, opening the door for them to continue creating applications for industry that solve real challenges for the Kingdom.


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