Artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn Sensetime is setting up a research center in the United Arab Emirates, with plans to hire hundreds of employees that will focus on AI in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

Why it matters: While Sensetime has a significant presence in Asia, the Abu Dhabi-based research and development (R&D) center will mark the company’s first presence in the EMEA region.

  • As the world attempts to rely less on fossil fuels, Gulf states are looking for new ways to stimulate their economies. Sensetime is setting up the R&D center with support from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), which aims to promote business in the emirate.

“Abu Dhabi offers us the ability to focus on innovation in key sectors, opens up a new customer base and importantly, a new talent pool.”

 —Xu Li, Sensetime co-founder and CEO in a statement

Details: The research center will develop AI for industries including healthcare, remote sensing, and education, according to Sensetime.  The company aims to provide support to regional industries and governments using AI.

  • ADIO said it will provide Sensetime with a “comprehensive support package,” though no further details were given.
  • The company says that Abu Dhabi gives it access to a greater pool of expertise, along with a larger customer base.
  • Abu Dhabi’s government hopes that its partnership with Sensetime will aid it in developing its knowledge-based economy.

Context: Beijing-based Sensetime is one of the most valuable AI startups in the world, and already has offices in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan.

  • The company is developing technology for autonomous driving, augmented reality, and medicine.
  • Sensetime’s main focus is image recognition technology.
  • The company has faced scrutiny for selling its facial recognition technology to Chinese law enforcement.
  • It is one of many that has built up an empire on the back of China’s goal of omnipresent surveillance, with around 40% of the AI firm’s revenue coming from Chinese government contracts.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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