Fostering Sustainable Development with Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things

Palestinian Innovators Challenge and Excel

December 2, 2019

Participants of the first Palestinian Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence Challenge

One of the participants explaing her initiative

The winners of the SME category for an internet monitoring and controlling platform that can be used for agriculture, healthcare and industry

Winners of the Start-ups category - AppJad smartphone application that works as a sign language translator

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is trending and emerging globally as a tool to accelerate sustainable development across various sectors. There are higher demands for this technology from both the public and private sectors to provide solutions for development challenges. The growth of IoT depends on the speed and efficiency at which data is collected and analyzed. Therefore, AI is an integral element for success in IoT digital ecosystems and can hugely help to manage the overflow of data and provide meaningful analytics of Big Data.

The Palestinian Accelerator Lab (PalAccLab) sees the potential of IoT and AI as complementing technologies to innovative solutions for complex development issues in the State of Palestine. Hence, UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People supported the first Palestinian IoT and AI challenge to encourage Palestinian youth to pitch their AI and IoT ideas and prototypes. This challenge was implemented in partnership with Al Nayzak; a non-profit organization that works on incubating promising Palestinian ideas in the field of science and technology.

Significant flow of AI and IoT ideas serving Social Innovation

Over 250 applications were received under three main categories: start-ups, graduation projects and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Following a competitive evaluation, 24 ideas were selected for the final challenge pitching. The winners will participate in the Arab AI and IoT challenge in Dubai in December 2019. We were pleased to see how young Palestinian innovators are adopting IoT and AI to solve social challenges in their communities and at the heart of sustainable development goals (SDGs) spirit of leaving no one behind.  Several ideas tackle environmental, agricultural, educational and health issues with high potential for uptake and application.

For example, the winning idea in the SMEs category has employed AI and IoT to diagnose areas of crop stress due to soil moisture and nutrients content. This allows farmers to use real-time data to proactively manage fertigation activities to prevent crop stress. This technology is available worldwide, but the innovation resides in the ability to efficiently localize it at a lower cost for valuable crops like dates grown in challenging conditions in the Jordan Valley.

Another example is winning idea in the startup category “AppJad” allowing for better communication between deaf and non-deaf people through an app. This is the first time an app is used to translate sign language into Arabic, and vice versa.  

Palestinian AI and IoT innovators are no longer under the radar

What was special about the final ceremony is that not only the winners were awarded but young innovators were recognized and praised by the government officials and development actors. The judging panel included the Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence, Ministry of Telecom and IT, (MTiT) and the Ministry of Education, not to mention that the event was under the patronage of the Prime Minister as the government is becoming more supportive of young innovators as the drivers of positive social impact. AI and IoT are not new to Palestinian innovators whose valuable knowledge and expertise in this field have been outsourced by other countries in the region, but the time has come to encourage and support Palestinian AI and IoT innovators to apply their skills and potential for the benefit of sustainable development.

Challenges facing AI and IoT innovators

While the challenge and the final pitching provided the limelight for many of the ideas present the accelerator lab is keen to maintain a close follow up with promising ideas. We recognize that the mere visibility is not sufficient ground for the ideas to flourish into real-life innovations and solutions. There is a need for strong will and commitment by the public and private actors in innovation ecosystem to support individuals and organizations who aspire to tailor AI and IoT technologies to provide feasible and effective solutions for pressing issues in the State of Palestine.

The opportunities are great, but we cannot deny that there are challenges associated with the application of AI and IoT, including the structure of current communication models and the underlying technologies that might be incompatible with the increased demand. In addition, there will be always serious data security and privacy concerns that would require more efforts to secure connected devices especially when AI and IoT serve government agencies.

The AI and IoT challenge is one of many initiatives that the PalAccLab is planning to foster social innovations that tackle the sustainable development goals. We want to hear from you! Do you think running challenges is an effective way for new ideas to emerge?

Ruba Al Adham is the Head of Exploration at the UNDP Accelerator Lab. Ruba has 12 years of professional experience in the fields of monitoring and evaluation (M&E), learning, knowledge management, engineering research and quality assurance. Prior joining UNDP, Ruba managed the M&E function of a number of large scale USAID and DFID-funded projects in Palestine targeting various sectors and cross cutting issues, including infrastructure, good governance, public administration and financial reforms, community planning, humanitarian assistance, market systems, women economic empowerment and integration of inclusivity. Ruba holds a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering, a Master's degree in Water and Environmental Engineering and she is a PMP candidate.