New Saudi Arabia mega-city project ‘will be as transformative to cities as smartphone was to telephones’

New Saudi Arabia mega-city project ‘will be as transformative to cities as smartphone was to telephones’

Is it possible to create a completely new high-tech mega-city on a totally green field site that incorporates all that technology offers today, and create a test-bed for developing the technologies of tomorrow? This is what the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia believes it can do, with a new smart city and entire sustainable ecosystem to be built from the ground up with a $500 billion initial investment, the first phase of which will be completed by 2025.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has announced a ground-breaking new initiative to establish a new urban ecosystem along the north west Red Sea coast of the Kingdom.

The new project, entitled ‘NEOM’, will seek to maximize the natural advantages the area has for wind and solar energy, and is being supported by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, led by former Alcoa and Siemens CEO, Klaus Kleinfield. Partners from leading technology companies are being called to join the innovative project, with public backing already secured from robotics experts Boston Dynamics.

In outlining the NEOM plan, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said, “There will be many opportunities, but we will work only with the dreamers – people who want to create something new in the world.”

Touching on the radical nature of the plan, the Crown Prince suggested that the new development will be as transformative to cities as the smartphone was to telephones. He also stressed the pivotal role the citizens of Saudi Arabia will play in ensuring the success of this project, referring to them as ‘the most important asset we have’.

Softbank chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son called it a fantastic opportunity which would create ‘the largest and most advanced generation of robots in the world’. Marc Raibert from Boston Dynamics spoke confidently on how NEOM can be a testbed for the successful implementation of a range of technologies, as well as a key factor in pulling smart robotics forward.  Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman called the project ‘transformational’.

The CEO Klaus Kleinfield promised the technology industry that NEOM will be a ‘beautiful and natural place’ for the best and the brightest to make their mark for generations to come. In this regard, Kleinfield committed to a collaborative process in the development of regulatory systems that will work for, and adapt to, new technologies, including drones, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT). He suggested that the new development will be a ‘magnet for talent’.

NEOM born from Vision 2030 plan, with $500bn investment

NEOM is born from the ambition of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to see the country develop into a pioneering and thriving model of excellence in various and important areas of life. It aims to thrive the transformation of the Kingdom into a leading global hub through the introduction of value chains of industry and technology.

“NEOM will focus on nine specialized investment sectors and living conditions that will drive the future of human civilization, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological & digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media, and entertainment with livability as its foundation. The focus on these sectors will stimulate economic growth and diversification by nurturing international innovation and manufacturing, to drive local industry, job creation, and GDP growth in the Kingdom. NEOM will attract private as well as public investments and partnerships. NEOM will be backed by more than $500 billion over the coming years by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, local as well as international investors”, said HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The new project resides in the Northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, and spans over 26,500 km2. Overlooking the waterfront of the Red Sea to the South and the West, and the Gulf of Aqaba, NEOM has an uninterrupted coastline stretching over 468 km, with a mountain backdrop rising to 2,500m to the east. A constant breeze leads to mild temperatures. The wind and sun will allow NEOM to be powered solely by regenerative energy.

NEOM claims to be situated on one of the world’s most prominent economic arteries, through which nearly a tenth of the world’s trade flows. Its strategic location will also facilitate the zone’s rapid emergence as a global hub that connects Asia, Europe and Africa, enabling 70 percent of the world’s population to reach it in under eight hours, which brings the potential to combine the best of major global regions in terms of knowledge, technology, research, teaching, learning, living and working.

The site will also become the main entrance to the King Salman Bridge, linking Asia and Africa, which will add to the zone’s economic significance. It’s land mass will extend across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering NEOM the first private zone to span three countries.

Investments and financing will play a vital role in NEOM, set to be spearheaded by the Kingdom’s economy and supported by PIF – a major global fund with access to a worldwide network of investors and major companies — set to be brought onboard to drive the success of NEOM.

With the ambition of becoming one of the world’s future economic and scientific capitals, in addition to being the future commerce capital of Saudi Arabia, It is looking to attract new foreign direct investment that will contribute to PIF’s long-term growth strategy aimed at strengthening the Saudi Arabian economy.

It will be developed to be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework, excluding sovereignty. NEOM will adopt a regulatory framework that fosters technological as well as societal innovation and entrepreneurship in accordance with international best practices. Investors, businesses, and innovators will be consulted at every step of the development in how best to create the economic framework, design the urban plans, and attract top quality talent that will drive the growth of this zone and its resident population.

“NEOM will be constructed from the ground-up, on greenfield sites, allowing it a unique opportunity to be distinguished from all other places that have been developed and constructed over hundreds of years and we will use this opportunity to build a new way of life with excellent economic prospects. Future technologies form the cornerstone for NEOM’s development: disruptive solutions for transportation from automated driving to passenger drones, new ways of growing and processing food, healthcare centered around the patient for their holistic well-being, wireless high speed internet as a free good called ‘digital air’, free world-class continuous online education, full scale e-governance putting city services at your fingertips, building codes that make net-zero carbon houses the standard, a city layout that encourages walking and bicycling and all solely powered by renewable energy just to name a few.  All of this will allow for a new way of life to emerge that takes into account the ambitions and outlooks of humankind paired with best future technologies and outstanding economic prospects”, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman added.

The NEOM project also seeks to achieve its ambitious goals of becoming among the top secure areas in the world – if not the most – by adopting the future technologies in the fields of security and safety. This will raise the standards of public life activities and ensure the safety and protection of residents, visitors, and investors.

All services and processes in NEOM will be 100 percent fully automated, with the goal of becoming the most efficient destination in the world, and in turn be implemented on all activities such as legal, government, and investment procedures among others. Additionally, it will be subject to the highest sustainability standards, and will provide all transactions, procedures, and claims through paperless and electronic means.

A new concept for the workforce will be implemented, based on attracting high-caliber human resources with unique competencies for full-time innovation, decision making and business leadership. Repetitive and arduous tasks will be fully automated and handled by robots, which may exceed the population, likely making the NEOM’s GDP per capita the highest in the world.

The officials claim that all these elements will put NEOM at the world’s forefront in terms of efficiency which will make it the ‘best destination in the world to live in’.

[Main image: Discover NEOM; Map image: Bloomberg]

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