The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
With 600 startups working to plot the future of transportation, Israel is embarking on a broad test of driverless buses over the next two years. A pilot program will send autonomous vehicles operated by Israeli bus lines to pick up passengers on four heavily traveled suburban routes, The Circuit reports this week. Drone aircraft with human beings aboard are also due to be tested soon by Israel’s Innovation Authority and regulatory bodies.
As business expands in the Gulf-Israel channel two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, the Dubai Multi Commodities Center is coming to Tel Aviv on Tuesday with its traveling road show, Made for Trade Live. The program, which will be held at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, is geared to teaching businesses how to set up shop in the UAE’s biggest free trade zone.
Tmura, a charitable fund created by Israeli venture capital firms, has distributed NIS 100 million ($29 million) to anti-poverty groups, youth organizations and non-profit social causes over the past 20 years. The fund raises money from startups, which pledge a portion of their stock options if they go public or get sold. At an anniversary party Sunday night in Tel Aviv, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the organization and noted that the startup tech company he founded, Cyota, was one of the first contributors. Recalling the stalemate he hit at one point in negotiations with investors, Bennett said they finally came up with a solution. “[The deal] almost blew up over half a percentage point,” he said. “So I said, let’s give it to Tmura. And once it turned into a contribution, everyone was happy to agree.”
Spotted at the Tmura event, which took place in the new DNA dining and cocktail bar space below the Azrieli Center towers, were Danna Azrieli, the real estate company’s chairwoman; Yadin Kaufmann and Baruch Lipner, Tmura’s chairman and executive director; Waze founder Uri Levine; mobility investor Michael Granoff; Jerusalem Global Ventures Chairman Shlomo Kalish; OurCrowd Chief Operating Officer Josh Wolff; and Miriam Schler, executive director of the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center, which was one of Tmura’s first grant recipients.
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Israelis getting on board to test driverless buses
You’re going to a New Year’s party. It’s a rainy night. The twisting suburban bus route is unfamiliar so you make your way up front to figure out where to get off. One problem: There’s no driver to ask. That’s among the many challenges that await Israelis in 2024, when the government starts a NIS 61 million ($17.7 million) pilot program to test autonomous buses carrying passengers in actual traffic, Melanie Lidman reports for The Circuit.
Unexpected behavior: Four Israeli bus companies and an assortment of international tech companies will examine how driverless vehicles can be integrated into the urban public transportation system. Until now, driverless public buses were considered mostly a novelty. Dubai, the Qatari capital of Doha and many other cities around the world have autonomous metro rail systems, which are easier to run because they operate on their own designated tracks. But public buses drive on regular city streets crowded with other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, which all behave in unexpected ways. As the technology and sensors for autonomous vehicles go up in quality and down in price, more cities are exploring options to use driverless buses as part of the existing transport network.
Technology’s here: “We understand that the future is going in that direction, and we need to have a vision,” Nir Ron, the head of innovation at Israel’s Egged bus company, told The Circuit. “The technology is already there, it’s about integrating it to work for public transportation.” Egged and three other Israeli bus lines — Dan, Metropolin and Nateev Express — have signed onto the pilot and will be working with Karsan from Turkey, Adastec from San Francisco, Applied Autonomy from Norway and EasyMile and Navya, both from France. The Israeli government is funding half of the two-year pilot program.
Drone transportation: There are more than 600 Israeli startups working on smart transportation, including tech behemoths like Waze, a navigation app with real-time traffic updates; Moovit, a public transportation planning app; Optibus, which helps cities optimize bus routes; and HopOn, a mobile ticketing app that allows riders to pay fares with their phones. The number of autonomous vehicle startups is increasing by more than 25% each year, according to government figures. Over and above the bus initiative, the Israel Innovation Authority is also examining the viability of drone air transportation and will soon begin tests of pilotless planes carrying human passengers.
Lunar Landing: The UAE will launch a rocket to the moon from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Wednesday, with a rover vehicle aboard to explore and study the lunar surface.
LNG at Sea: Israel’s Newmed Energy is considering a proposal to build a floating liquefied natural gas terminal to develop the offshore Leviathan gas field.
Getting High: UAE-based Azizi Developments plans to build the second-tallest tower in Dubai after the 163-story Burj Khalifa, starting next year at a cost of about $1.4 billion.
Desert Tracks: Israel is reconsidering canceled plans to extend its rail network through the Arava desert to reach the Red Sea port of Eilat.
Branching Out: The Wildlife Alliance, an international conservation group, said it will help Saudi Arabia plant 450 million trees by 2030 to offset carbon emissions.
Upward Bound: Women in junior tech positions from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE will take part in a program by Jerusalem-based FemForward to teach managerial skills.
Soccer Flights: Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways is livestreaming World Cup soccer matches on its flights to Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.
Crypto Salvage: Abu Dhabi’s Hayvn, a virtual asset trading platform, is considering making a bid for the payments business of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
Moroccan Reserves: Israel’s Newmed Energy is planning to invest in Morocco, where it expects to find reserves of natural gas, particularly in the Sahara Desert.
Turkish Games: Israel’s Playtika will buy a minority stake in Turkish gaming company Ace Games for $25 million.
Piggy Bank: Israel’s Piggy, which facilitates content creation on mobile phones, raised $7.7 million in seed funding, led by Insight Partners.
Pressure Rising: Israel’s Torr FoodTech, which uses extreme pressure to bind ingredients for energy snacks, raised $12 million in a round led by Harel Insurance.
Bound for Europe: NanoLock, an Israeli maker of cybersecurity software for manufacturers, entered a European distribution agreement with Germany’s ectacom.
On the Circuit
Richard Francis was named CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the Israeli maker of generic drugs, replacing Kare Schultz. Francis was formerly the CEO of Sandoz.
Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, CEO of Binance, reportedly met with investors in Abu Dhabi to raise money for a cryptocurrency industry recovery fund, in the wake of FTX’s collapse.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed an order to establish an embassy in Tel Aviv, the first diplomatic mission in Israel of a Shi’ite Muslim-majority state.
Ahead on the Circuit
Nov. 28-29, Tel Aviv. Israel HLS & Cyber 2022. Days 2 and 3 of conference featuring international experts and officials in homeland security and cyber crime. David Intercontinental Hotel.
Nov. 29, Tel Aviv. Made for Trade Live. The Dubai Multi Commodities Center holds seminar on how to set up and expand Israeli businesses in the UAE’s biggest free-trade zone. Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
Dec. 5-6, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. World Fintech Show. Conference brings together investors, policymakers, entrepreneurs to discuss technology used by the financial services industry. Intercontinental Riyadh Hotel.
Dec. 7, Tel Aviv. Israel Crypto Conference. Digital currency managers debate whether industry has entered “Crypto Winter,” battling fraud. ZOA House.
Patriotic Colors: The UAE’s National Day celebrations on Friday will see Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest skyscraper, bathed in the green, red, black and white colors of the country’s flag along with a pulsating LED light show on the 830-meter (2,720-ft.) building’s sleek façade. The main official ceremony will take place in Abu Dhabi’s ADNEC Centre, along with with fireworks displays and concerts in each of the seven emirates.
Arab-Israeli Satire: “Shu Ismo,” loosely translated as “Whatchamacallit,” is Israel’s first satirical sketch-comedy TV show in Arabic. The program, which started last year on public television’s Arabic-language channel, has recently generated controversy by poking fun at members of Israel’s new government. Showrunner Razi Najjar credits the popularity of social media for breaking down barriers and laying the groundwork for more satire on Arab television.
Saudi Rap: MDLBEAST SoundStorm22, a three-day Saudi music festival that starts on Thursday, will bring more than 50 rappers and hip-hop performers on seven stages to the Binban section of northern Riyadh. Topping the bill are Grammy Award winning rapper and record producer Future, along with hip-hop stars Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe.