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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Saudi Arabia's PIF teams up with SoftBank to help regulate robots taking over the world

The couple wants to create an industry standard as robot spending is expected to climb to $100bn

The BOTZ robot funds seems to be entirely focused on one stock: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg
The BOTZ robot funds seems to be entirely focused on one stock: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, and Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group, will create a robotics initiative that will pave the way for technology to be integrated across industries and the public sector.

PIF and SoftBank are working to partner with governments, private companies and academia to create a platform to drive the robot industry while establishing a set of standards which currently do not exist, according to a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

“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,” said Masayoshi Son, Softbank chairman and chief executive.

The collaboration widens PIF's previous partnership where it came on board to invest in SoftBank’s global tech investment fund, that was created last year to support companies and entrepreneurs. Other investors include Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, which has said it would commit US$15 billion to the SoftBank Vision Fund, as well as Apple, Foxconn and Qualcomm.

PIF's two day Riyadh event in October will bring together industry leaders such as DP World Chairman Sultan bin Sulayem, Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, the chairman of Hong Kong's First Eastern Investment Group Victor Chu, NYSE President Thomas Farley, the chief executive of Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev, Group CEO of HSBC in addition to a number of decision makers and academics from some of the largest companies, financiers, educational institutions and government entities from around the world.

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PIF and SoftBank’s programme comes at a time when the robotics industry is growing at a rapid pace.

Robot popularity is increasing with spending expected to total just under US$100 billion this year up 18 per cent from last year, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). This includes drones and robotics-related hardware, software and services.

The IDC expects that number to accelerate further to $231bn in five years, a compound annual growth rate of 23 per cent. Robots represent 0.7 per cent of the global industrial workforce with a ration of 69 robots per 10,000 employees, according to data cited by SPA.

Growing demand for robotics is growing across a wide range of industries. “Technology advancements in mobile robots and collaborative robots are opening up opportunities to deploy robots in new areas outside of the more traditional industrial manufacturing processes,” said John Santagate, IDC research manager. “While technology improvements are helping to fuel demand, the increased demand is incentivizing innovators in the field to invest in delivering robots that are capable of performing a wider range of tasks."

PIF and SoftBank are pushing to start a programme to standardise measurements for robot power, performance and intelligence in line with growing demand. The companies said that the evolution and adoption of autonomous environments had the potential to propel economic and social climates, but it also presented a range of changes that would impact people.

“Policies and methods to standardise and govern several aspects of the industry are needed,” said Moustafa Mahmoud, founder and chief executive of Dubai-based artificial intelligence (AI) company Cognitev.

Regulating robot creators, not devices themselves, is paramount said Mr Mahmoud.

“They are just machines in the end, but the people designing, building and working with the robots are where the regulation needs to happen,” said Mr Mahmoud citing prosthetic limbs, previously simplistic in design with components made of wood or plastic, whereas today they are robotic.

“What's to stop a manufacturer from just restoring the basic motor function that humans lack and not actually produce a limb that gives enhanced power? Who is regulating that?” Mr Mahmoud said.

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