China AI giant SenseTime to set up regional R&D headquarters in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Investment Office expects the centre to create up to 3,000 direct and indirect jobs in the emirate over the next five years

Xu Li, chief executive officer of SenseTime Group Ltd., is identified by the company's facial recognition system on a screen as he poses for a photograph at SenseTime's showroom in Beijing, China, on Friday, June 15, 2018. SenseTime's image-identifying algorithms have made it the world's most valuable AI startup and an early leader in China, where it's won contracts with the country's top phonemakers, largest telecommunications company, and biggest retailer. Photographer: Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg
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Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) signed a deal with artificial intelligence firm SenseTime to base its regional research and development headquarters in the emirate, solidifying Abu Dhabi’s position as an emerging hub of technology research in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

The AI Centre of Excellence by SenseTime, the technology start-up valued at $4.5 billion (Dh16.5bn) when it raised $620 million in Series C+ funding in May, is expected to create 600 highly skilled direct technology jobs over the next five years, Elham Al Qasim, chief executive of Adio, told The National, speaking from Beijing on Tuesday.

"When you are creating the tech ecosystem, complementary jobs [are] created around this kind of a core R&D centre ... you could see 2,000 to 3,000 jobs created directly or indirectly as a result," Ms Al Qasim said.

Adio, the government body tasked with facilitating investments in the emirate, will provide a support package including "cash and non-cash incentives" to help SenseTime set up its EMEA research and development operations, she said, adding that the deal is the first of many with Chinese and other international technology firms.

The deal was signed during a state visit by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces to China. Adio, along with several top UAE companies and government departments, is part of Sheikh Mohamed’s ministerial delegation in Beijing to explore increasing co-operation between the two countries including fostering deeper financial and economic ties.

SenseTime will start the process of setting up its EMEA R&D headquarters in Abu Dhabi this year, Adio said in a statement.

SenseTime has offices in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. The AI Centre of Excellence in Abu Dhabi will be the company’s first presence in the EMEA region. The regional centre will focus on developing AI capabilities across seven different industries including health care, remote sensing and education. Its growing list of more than 700 clients including Alibaba Group, China Mobile, Qualcomm and Honda, according to Adio.

The Adio-SenseTime agreement marks a key milestone in the Abu Dhabi Government’s Dh50bn three-year Ghadan 21 economic stimulus programme, which aims to help develop a knowledge-based economy for the emirate.

Adio is working to create a comprehensive environment of tech companies at different stages of development across a variety of industries and the deal with SenseTime will provide a thriving environment for tech talent to establish careers and grow, Ms Al Qasim said.

"The proof is in the pudding when you have the number one company in AI [across the globe] looking at the emirate to [set up base]," Ms Al Qasim said.

The Ghadan programme, she said, and the pieces of its puzzle have started to come together, helping to create more high-tech jobs not only for UAE nationals but also for the "top talent in the world who choose Abu Dhabi as their home", she noted.

SenseTime is among the highest valued and fastest growing "pure-play AI companies" in the world. As an AI innovation platform, SenseTime is taking the lead in providing technology to enable autonomous driving, augmented reality, medical image analysis, remote sensing and photo quality enhancement.

SenseTime’s AI capabilities and developments will be available to early-stage tech start-ups being established out of Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 through partnerships, Adio said in the statement.

“As part of the Ghadan 21 programme, we are helping some of the world’s best companies establish a presence in the emirate to encourage innovation and create jobs of the future,” said Saif Mohamed Al Hajeri, chairman, Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development.

SenseTime will act as an anchor to promote and streamline the adoption of AI technologies across industry and governments in the EMEA region, Mr Al Hajeri noted.