Alibaba chooses Singapore as home for one of 7 new research labs around the world for cutting-edge tech

China's top e-commerce firm, Alibaba, is launching a US$15 billion drive to build overseas research hubs to compete in e-commerce, logistics, and cloud technology.
Alibaba Group Holding is calling its global research programme the Alibaba DAMO Academy - short for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook.
Alibaba Group Holding is calling its global research programme the Alibaba DAMO Academy - short for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Singapore will be home to one of seven research labs around the world in a multibillion-dollar R&D investment from Chinese tech giant Alibaba, the firm announced on Wednesday (Oct 11).

China (Beijing and Hangzhou), the United States (San Mateo and Bellevue), Russia (Moscow) and Israel (Tel Aviv) have been tapped to house the other six facilities under Alibaba's new Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook (Damo) Academy programme.

The new labs are set to address a range of ground-breaking technologies such as the Internet of Things and human-machine interaction, with the aim of boosting efficiency, network security and ecosystem synergy for end users and businesses.

With the latest move, Alibaba expects to more than double research and development spending to US$15 billion (S$20.3 billion) over the next three years.

Alibaba's presence here includes its majority stake in Singapore-based e-retailer Lazada, which in turn owns online grocer RedMart.

The company, which now employs about 25,000 engineers and scientists worldwide, plans to add 100 more with hires for its labs and and fund collaborations with universities, including the University of California at Berkeley.

And the 10-person Damo Academy advisory board, which will steer research, boasts experts from leading institutions of higher learning in China and the US, such as Princeton and Harvard.

The programme marks a significant ramp-up in its R&D outlay and is intended to help the US$469 billion behemoth keep pace with Amazon.com and Tencent Holdings in potentially industry-changing advancements, said Bloomberg News. It's in line with ambitions voiced by top policymakers who want China to become a global leader in artificial intelligence, it said.

"The labs will help solve issues that Alibaba is currently facing across its business lines," Mr Jeff Zhang, Alibaba's chief technology officer, said in a telephone interview. "It will also be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology."

The planned investment compares to the US$6.4 billion the company spent on R&D over the past three fiscal years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.