CEMSE Division startups in focus: Albasr

By David Murphy

A universal theme that unites parents the world over is a constant concern for their child’s safety. A large number of families have undergone the jarring experience of losing a child in a crowded area. What if there was a technology that could assist in to tracking and detecting our loved ones when we get separated? Could the same system also be employed to track and manage our valuables, our vehicles, and help create a dependable store-to-door global shipping system? The need to provide accurate location service technology proved to be a call to action for one of the University’s most promising startups, Albasr.

Albasr is a KAUST-founded startup that emerged from research work by the KAUST Integrated Microwave Packaging Antennas and Circuits Technology (IMPACT) Lab. The startup is the brainchild of Atif Shamim, associate professor of electrical engineering, and fellow co-founder Rana Muhammad Bilal, a research staff member. Albasr is a seamless crowd control monitoring and tracking system that combines GPS and GSM mobile technology, together with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to pinpoint an individual or item’s location in a mass gathering.

Shamim and Bilal’s expertise in miniaturized and wearable wireless communication and sensing modules form the backbone of Albasr’s output. Both believe that Albasr can play a proactive role in the Kingdom’s economy and innovation culture.

“Albasr’s technology can work indoors and outdoors. It provides location-aware services and products for both individuals, pilgrimage sites, and smart cities,” Shamim explained. “Our ambition is to harness our state-of-the-art technology to overcome unaddressed problems (e.g., child/shipment misplacement) and facilitate accurate navigation for its users.

“My student, Rana, and I developed the core technology. Over time, many of my students and outsourced software engineers, graphic designers, smartphone app developers, etc. have contributed to the development of Albasr.”

Now that the core technology is developed, the packaging and certification work for our flagship child safety device is now being carried out for a market launch. We are also getting primed for field testing and the subsequent stage of funding, after which we intend to hire more people for the company,” Shamim said.

Generating a positive impact on Saudi Arabia

The homegrown startup was launched to have many beneficial effects on the Saudi economy and its innovation landscape. The appeal of the Albasr’s crowd management solutions are of particular interest to the Kingdom as it continues to invest in crowd safety measures to protect the frequent local and international visitors who visit Mecca and Medina during the Hajj and Ramadan season. Shamim also believes that Albasr's product portfolio will provide an application appeal for the Kingdom’s many futuristic smart cities, innovation parks, and economic zones.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a unique and enormous need for crowd management. This is because of the sheer volume of pilgrims coming to Haramain throughout the year and especially during Hajj and Ramadan season. There is a pressing motivation from the Saudi government to introduce technological-based solutions for crowd management and pilgrim facilitation purposes per Vision 2030.

“We hope to bring technology-based crowd management and pilgrimage facilitation to the national market. Our technology can become valuable for foreign business visitors and tourists who come to the Kingdom. We are also hoping to expand to the global market in the form of exhibitions, events, festivals, and other tourist attractions.”

Similarly, through its smart beacon compatibility, Shamim hopes to bring innovative Bluetooth-based smart city applications to market in Saudi Arabia. “NEOM has the potential to be a trendsetter for futuristic smart cities. Thus, Albasr’s smart beacons will be pitched for implementation in NEOM and hopefully generate future revenue streams for the local economy,” Shamim noted.

Entering an exciting future
Both KAUST and Saudi Arabia are investing heavily to promote entrepreneurial activities and startups. The Kingdom has comprehensively restructured laws and procedures for startup registration, foreign investment, foreign ownership of companies, operational procedures for commercial registration, investment license, etc., to smoothen the process for technology and innovation-based startups to get up and running.

This level of investment received from external sources is not lost on Shamim: “KAUST has provided critical support and nurturing throughout all stages of Albasr’s development. The technology transfer office helped with technology development by providing proof-of-concept funding and IP filing. The Entrepreneurship Center assisted by providing mentorships and training to students and staff working for Albasr."

"Moreover, the KAUST Innovation Fund has been critical to Albasr’s growth by investing the funds to complete the final prototyping stages of Albasr’s product. We are thoroughly indebted to all staff at these departments for their tireless and generous support.”

Albasr is currently in an exciting stage of its development; its core technology has been developed, and its flagship child safety device has been sent for its final stage of prototyping. The Albasr team expects to be testing the flagship product in a few months. If there is a sole credo vital to Albasr’s makeup, then it is the team’s unshakable belief that the only difference between success and failure is determination. 

“I firmly believe that the sustained investment in startups will inevitably bear fruit as Saudi Arabia emerges as a global hub for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Shamim emphasized.

“Albasr is now in somewhat unchartered territory, which can often be full of bumps and falls. However, each venture is unique, and no deterministic rule exists that can navigate you to your ultimate destination, except your own unwavering resolve to find success."

Startup members

  • Atif Shamim, associate professor of electrical engineering 
  • Rana Muhammad Bilal, research staff member
  • Shoaa Boagas, operations manager.

Advantages of Albasr

1. Child safety device: Albasr’s innovative technology greatly reduces misplacement chances for children in crowded places and is capable of finding lost children in every conceivable location.

2. Smart beacon technology for futuristic smart cities: Albasr’s smart beacons enable single platform tracking and management of personnel (children, elderly, staff, etc.), assets (equipment, valuables); transportation (vehicles, fleets); and any other object (goods, cargo, etc.) that a smart city administration might require.

3. Tracking and recovery of valuables: Albasr’s innovative shipment tracking technology aims to eliminate significant financial losses sustained by this sector, owing to misplaced and/or delayed shipments.