Dyson invests £5m in UK robotics

Engineering firm Dyson invests £5m in a robotics lab to pit a UK team against Google to become world leader in artificial intelligence

UK engineering firm Dyson is to invest £5m in a robotics lab at Imperial College, London that could pit a UK team against Google in the quest to become the world leader in artificial intelligence.

Google has completed a string of acquisitions of robotics and artificial intelligence firms, including London-based machine learning startup DeepMind.

The lab at Imperial College will focus on vision systems that can help domestic robots understand and adapt to the world around them, Dyson said.

The announcement comes just weeks after Dyson announced a £250m investment to double the size of its research centre in Wiltshire and hire 3,000 more engineers.

The five-year investment in the robotics lab – combined with an additional £3m from other sources – will fund a research team of 15 scientists, including some of Dyson's own engineers, the company said.

The team will be led by Andrew Davison, an expert in Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (Slam) systems, and currently head of robot vision at Imperial's department of computing.

The Slam technique is used to create a 3D map of a space with a single camera.

Despite developing several prototypes, Dyson is yet to bring a robot vacuum cleaner to market.

Company founder James Dyson is reported to have been dissatisfied with prototypes' ability to navigate around a typical room.

Investment in the new lab aims at building UK expertise in solving the navigation problems that face domestic robot developers.

James Dyson is critical of DeepMind for selling its intellectual property (IP) to Google. "It seems a pity to me to sell out, as I don't quite understand the urge to give up," he told the Guardian.

"Long-term thinking is essential to new technology. We should be encouraging UK companies to invest in R&D and take on armies of engineers, so that they can grow and become UK world-beaters.”

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