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 located at a prime spot in London's buzzy Kings Cross neighbourhood, and currently houses around 60 engineers focused entirely on AI. According to one source with knowledge of Huawei's plans, the Chinese firm eventually plans to staff the lab with 200 engineers focused on artificial intelligence and has placed particular emphasis on computer vision, a field of AI which lets computers "recognise" objects or people.
A second source said 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 located 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.
The new facility comes at a geopolitically sensitive time for the Chinese company, which was indicted by the FBI in January for alleged trade secret theft and bank fraud.
The US government has also barred Huawei from doing business with US firms with special licenses, claiming that the firm spies on behalf of the Chinese government. Huawei has denied the claim, but the US trade blacklist 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 kit.
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.