Innovators Hack the Future at KAUST

Hundreds of developers, designers, programmers and entrepreneurs from around Saudi Arabia came together last week to design next generation technologies in food, water and energy for implementation in Saudi Arabia’s $500bn global model for future living NEOM, the event’s challenge partner.

The JUNCTIONxKAUST hackathon took place from September 12-14 on campus at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). The winning team eFarmers will be attending the global Junction hackathon in Helsinki, Finland, taking place in November later this year.

Out of 1,200 applications, only 200 participants were selected to compete in this year’s JUNCTIONxKAUST hackathon. The attendees were supported by over 25 mentors from the Saudi Data Community including; Developer Circles JeddahGDG JeddahGeeks ValleyUdacity and KAUST Core Labs.

This is the second Junction hackathon hosted by KAUST. Each year, KAUST works with a network of partners to design innovative solutions to shared global challenges. “At KAUST our mission is to create solutions for the future of food, water, energy and the environment,” said Kevin Cullen the Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development at KAUST.

Group winners eFarmers, Arks and Nutrax scoop prizes at JUNCTIONxKAU

“We do this through advanced research and working with partners to develop new products and technology. This hackathon was an incredible opportunity to partner with NEOM to solve real challenges facing the Kingdom and for students and innovators to work together in creating a shared sustainable future.”

During the hackathon, participants were asked to solve three important challenges regarding the future of water, energy, and food technology products and services in NEOM. Mark Tester, Head of Future of Food sector at NEOM and Professor of Plant Science at KAUST explained, “NEOM is the land of the future. We are looking for the most innovative and cutting-edge solutions to challenges in generating energy, growing food and sourcing water. The Junction hackathon with KAUST showed the unlimited potential of young people from around Saudi Arabia in answering these challenges.”

The challenges included:

The Future of Food in NEOM: How will humanity produce fresh food in a desert with no water? Or create fresh drinking water at sea?

The Future of Water in NEOM: With more than 450 km of coastline, NEOM has access to a vast supply of seawater but no freshwater. How can NEOM use low cost, renewable energy and the Kingdom’s vast domestic desalination expertise to generate water?

The Future of Energy in NEOM: How will NEOM harness the vast power of renewable solar and wind energy to power the land of the future?

Technology partners Microsoft and UnitX offered additional technical solutions, including Microsoft’s Azure and UnitX’s Sentient, a cloud-based supercomputing platform. Saleh AlZaid, Intelligent Cloud Business Group Lead at Microsoft, stated “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Hence, we at Microsoft support innovators and entrepreneurs all over the world to achieve more. This hackathon at KAUST brought top talent from all over Saudi Arabia to put Microsoft technology to the test.”

The winners of JUNCTIONxKAUST included:

  • 1st place team: eFarmers, a sensor technology that accurately detects ground humidity for plants
  • 2nd place team: Arks, a machine learning technology that detects water leakage in homes
  • 3rd place team: Nutrax, a food scanning app that accurately identifies all nutritional information

Following their win, Abdullah Aldahlawi, a data scientist, said, “We are so excited to go to Junction in Finland. What we plan to do next is further develop our water detection solution that we created here and scale it up so it’s ready for the next hackathon.”

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