Saudi Arabia's PIF, SoftBank to launch robotics initiative

Kingdom working with Japanese tech firm on artificial intelligence (AI) pilot
Worldwide spending on robotics and related services is set to more than double by 2020 from over $90 billion in 2016 to $188 billion
By Sarah Townsend
Thu 07 Sep 2017 10:45 AM

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is preparing to launch a pioneering robotics initiative with Japanese technology company SoftBank Group, the state news agency announced.

The partnership with SoftBank is the next stage following a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and SoftBank signed in October.

The joint initiative will aim to explore how robotic systems and artificial intelligence (AI) can be better incorporated into the government, private sector and society, the two parties announced in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the plans, PIF and SoftBank will seek to establish partnerships with global institutions and governments over the coming months, and develop a strategy for integrating the robotics industry into day-to-day operations.

Among other pieces of research, the project will explore how to develop standardised measurements for robot power, performance and intelligence.

Robots now represent 0.7 percent of the global industrial workforce, the statement said – without specifying where the figure came from – and worldwide spending on robotics and related services is set to more than double by 2020 from over $90 billion in 2016 to $188 billion.

Corporate practices and global regulations will have to evolve to accommodate the increased deployment of AI.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy premier, minister of defence, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and Chairman of PIF, said: “Technology forms an integral part of achieving Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and this project reflects the kingdom’s ambition to play an important role in helping to shape the future of the robotics sector.”

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank Group, added: “The real world applications of robotics industry are rapidly moving from theory to reality, and this shift is creating a pressing need to improve, future-proof and standardise areas relating to regulation and measurement.

“By taking a leadership role, Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly support its own efforts to diversify and modernise its economy.”

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