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Saudi Arabia races to find technologies for futuristic cities

Workers at a Riyadh construction site. The Tonomus competition aims to find innovation in the sector Reuters
Workers at a Riyadh construction site. The Tonomus competition aims to find innovation in the sector
  • Tonomus running innovation contest
  • Seeking tech for giga-projects
  • Worldwide entries invited

Saudi Arabia is urgently seeking new technologies for its construction and real estate sectors as it races to make good on its pledge to build futuristic multi-billion-dollar cities.

Tonomus, a subsidiary of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s $500 billion signature Neom development, has joined forces with the Public Investment Fund to launch a competition offering startups resources to speed up their innovations.

Under the Tonomus Venture Studio’s umbrella, Project PropTech calls for ventures leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. 

It invites data-driven ideas for project designers in the pre-build phase to “stay on top of changing market dynamics and more effectively predict and manage the economics and success factors of their projects”.

Additionally, it seeks predictive systems for construction companies that would aid in forecasting project costs, minimising overruns and mitigating supply chain risks.

The competition is also looking for innovations in materials and construction methods to alleviate environmental pressure and promote the use of sustainable building materials and practices.

Other focus areas include technologies to streamline real estate transactions and improve facilities management.

Founders from across the globe are invited to submit their ideas. If selected, they will have the chance to validate their ideas in the kingdom and pitch for seed funding from investors.

The entrepreneurs will have access to startup experts, mentors and advisors to assist with customer development, concept refinement and business model and operating plan guidance.

Submissions will be evaluated based on their visibility, scalability, adoptability and sustainability.

Saudi Arabia’s real estate market is valued at more than $1.25 trillion, the Tonomus website states.

There have been broader concerns within Saudi Arabia on delays and financial challenges in its ambitious giga-project pipeline amid rising costs and budget deficits. 

Developers have also talked of the difficulty of turning the giga-project designs into reality.

Neom, owned by PIF, is the biggest of the projects but it admitted in March that its audacious horizontal city, The Line, would open in 2030 at only around 3.2km long, instead of the 170km initially announced. 

Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said earlier this month that the country would adjust its Vision 2030 plan to transform its economy as needed.

The Saudi government said in its annual report on Vision 2030 published in April that one-third of 1,064 planned projects have been completed so far, raising speculation that some projects could be ditched or pared back.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan has already talked of extending the current economic transformation plan from 2030 to 2040.

The Saudi government has projected three years of budget deficits, as oil output cuts fail to raise oil prices to the country’s current breakeven price of $96 a barrel.

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