Huawei has quietly opened a new artificial-intelligence research lab right on Facebook and Google’s doorstep in London, Business Insider has learned.
The new office is at a prime spot in London’s buzzy Kings Cross neighbourhood and houses around 60 engineers focused entirely on AI. According to one source with knowledge of Huawei’s plans, the Chinese firm plans to eventually staff the lab with 200 engineers focused on artificial intelligence and has placed a particular emphasis on computer vision, a field of AI that lets computers “recognise” objects or people.
According to a second source, the lab is focused on technology for self-driving cars, as well as wider applications for artificial intelligence.
The existence of the lab highlights the importance of the UK to global companies as a hub for artificial-intelligence talent — and is evidence that Huawei is still pushing to expand even as it faces mounting scrutiny from Western governments over spying allegations.
Huawei has not officially announced the new facility, but it is already up and running, and industry figures have been invited to tour the new facilities next month. It is part of Huawei’s OpenLab network of research and collaboration hubs around the world. A Huawei spokesman confirmed the lab’s existence but gave no further details.
Business Insider found the lab at 1 St. Pancras Square in Kings Cross, a newly redeveloped area nicknamed the “knowledge quarter” for the growing numbers of AI labs and tech firms taking up residence.
Huawei’s lab is directly opposite the Google’s new massive London headquarters, which is still under construction.
Google and its AI-research arm, DeepMind, remain housed in a separate building on St. Pancras Square while the headquarters is being built.
Facebook is likewise planning a massive new UK headquarters in Kings Cross.
London bills itself as the AI capital of Europe. A report commissioned by the city last year, and produced by CognitionX, found the city hosted some 750 AI suppliers. The city is also home to a major source of AI talent, Imperial College London.
The new facility comes at a geopolitically sensitive time for the Chinese company, which was indicted by the FBI in January on charges of trade-secret theft and bank fraud.
The US government has also banned Huawei from doing business with US firms with special licenses, alleging that the firm spies on behalf of the Chinese government. Huawei has denied the claim, but the US trade blacklisting means it was unable to launch its latest Android smartphone, the Mate 30, with Google’s apps and services.
Its position in the UK is also precarious. The British government will decide in the autumn whether Huawei’s telecommunications equipment should be completely excluded from the UK’s next-generation 5G mobile networks.
The US is pressuring its allies to lock Huawei out of their 5G networks completely, although in the UK, all the major mobile operators are already rolling out their new networks with Huawei gear.
UK security services also warned in February that Huawei’s mobile-network equipment had major flaws and “significant technical issues.” Huawei said it took those concerns seriously.