by Babar Khan Javed

Robotics in the Middle East: Gov-led agencies, enterprises embrace robotics

Sep 01, 2019
Computers and PeripheralsRobotic Process AutomationRobotics

Saudi Arabia has placed robotics firmly on the agenda for government-led organisations, as robots catch on elsewhere in the Middle East.

ai robotics analytics data scientist mathematics equation
Credit: Getty Images

In a move meant to help over 200,000 pilgrims visiting Makkah for Hajj, the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has introduced robots that connect doctors based in Riyadh and Jeddah to patients. 

Connected through 4G technology, the robots consist of forward-facing screens that display a live feed of specialised doctors such as oncologists and cardiologists to speak with and consult patients in real-time. 

“We have the ability to now consult any Ministry of Health consultant from all over the Kingdom to be immediately within the hospitals,” said Dr Ahmad Balkhair, the deputy minister for eHealth and digital transformation. “He can roam within the hospitals, go to any department or any bed and give the consultation directly.”

With pilgrims distributed across the sacred sites of Mina, Muzdaliffa and Arafat, it is operationally a challenge to mobilise medical professionals towards the 16 major hospitals built for the purpose of aiding pilgrims and area residents. 

The annual “Save a Life” program by the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offers free health services including open-heart surgery, cardiac catheterisation, and even childbirth during the Hajj season. 

In an effort to successfully improve operational efficiencies for procedures, the inclusion of robots has been intended as a means of improving economies of scale for the healthcare system.

Commonly referred to as autonomous service robots, the use of this deployment is common in large interaction settings in the Middle East, with notable examples covering retail, law enforcement, healthcare, banking, and future smart cities. 

Dubai Festival City

While the large scale use and roll-out of robots in the Middle East are led by government institutions, the business to consumer side has successful examples in the United Arab Emirates, with Ruby the robotic waitress at Bur Dubai, a greeting robot at pan-Asian Tanuki, and the upcoming RoboCafe in Dubai Festival City.

The National Bank of Oman

The National Bank of Oman uses nearly 40 Promobots robots to help answer frequently asked questions for walk-in customers at branches, as well as numerous administrative tasks such as filing documents for customers and connecting with an electronic queue system. 

“Our Promobot is able to integrate with any external systems – so its functionality becomes almost unlimited,” said Oleg Kivokurtsev, Chief Business Development Officer at Promobot. “Thanks to this, the robot can replace any position in the bank – concierge, consultant, personal assistant or administrator. When a person needs to be trained in each profession separately, the robot only needs to switch the mode.”

Kivokurtsev stated that bankers in branches will be one of the first professions that will be replaced by robots, adding that the inclusion and introduction of calculators, ATM machines, and mobile apps did the same as well.

In the Middle East, Promobot robots can be seen at the Dubai Mall, clinics in Kuwait, and in schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Globally, the robots have a presence at metro stations, airports, and exhibitions as well.

Smart Cities

Neom, the US$500 billion smart city by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, cited large scale adoption and implementation plans for autonomous service robots, covering all public spaces which exhibit high human traffic such as schools, transportation hubs, clinics, malls, and commercial residences. 

Working under a singular operating system created by Pal Robotics, the autonomous service robots will share data seamlessly, create citizen profiles in real-time, track patterns, and play the dual role of location-based assistant and security alert system. 

Dubai Police

The same system has already been deployed in the United Arab Emirates by the Dubai Police, patrolling the city’s malls and tourist attractions. 

Rolled out in mid-2017, the bilingual (Arabic and English) robot police officer interacts with citizens, residents, and tourists as a means of reporting crimes, paying fines, and using the touchscreen on the chest to attain new information. Similar to Neom, the data is collected under a singular system and shared with transport and traffic authorities. 

By 2030, Dubai Police expect that 25 percent of the police force will be robotic, adding that it has no plans to replace human officers, only perhaps relocate them to areas that are not yet suited for robots.