New Dyson centre here a boost for R&D drive

$587m facility to develop technologies for new products, support smart-home market

Mr Iswaran and Mr Dyson at the launch of Dyson's new technology centre in Science Park yesterday. Its research areas include artificial intelligence, robotics and software development.
Mr Iswaran and Mr Dyson at the launch of Dyson's new technology centre in Science Park yesterday. Its research areas include artificial intelligence, robotics and software development.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

British technology company Dyson - famous for its bladeless fans and vacuum cleaners - officially opened its new £330 million (S$587 million) research and development (R&D) centre here yesterday.

The facility in Science Park will focus on developing technologies for new products and supporting the firm's move into the smart-home market. Research areas include artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, vision systems and software development.

Founder James Dyson said at a ceremony yesterday: "We are deepening our commitment in Singapore because you have some of the brightest minds, and, working together, we hope to create more breakthroughs... Singapore understands the value and contribution that engineers make to society."

Dyson, which set up here in 2007, now employs 1,100 people across the new technology centre and its advanced digital motors manufacturing facility at West Park in Pioneer Crescent.

About a third of the staff here are engineers, and there are plans to grow the engineering team by 50 per cent, the company said.

Apart from developing the next groundbreaking technology, the engineers are tasked with bringing together hardware, software and electronics in designing new products.

An example of such an integration is the Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum, which uses a 360-degree vision system to understand and navigate its environment. It also connects to an app that allows the user to schedule cleaning or turn it on remotely.

"The software is propelling hardware companies at a faster rate than software is propelling software companies. The power comes from the two working together," Mr Dyson said.

Opening the new centre here also lines up with the company's aim to tap growth in the region. Mr Dyson said Asia, which accounts for a third of the firm's business, is its fastest-growing market, and it will likely surpass the Americas and Europe - each with a one-third share - in the coming years. "We expect the Far East to grow at a faster rate and become our most profitable area," he said at a briefing yesterday.

Trade and Industry Minister (Industry) S. Iswaran said at the opening ceremony that Singapore will continue to work with industry partners to equip people with "deep capabilities" and to support innovation and internationalisation.

He noted that Dyson's new R&D centre and an advanced manufacturing team the firm will set up here will create another 190 jobs.

Dyson aims to hire a further 3,000 engineers globally by 2020.

Mr Iswaran said Singapore must continue to build an "industry- ready" talent pool in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics so Singapore can become an innovation-led economy.

"We can better prepare our young engineers to meet the needs of the industry. This means providing them with opportunities to work on real-life engineering problems and gain practical experience," he added.

Dyson, for instance, has been investing in grooming young talent through its on-the-job training programme. Advanced design engineer Steven Ong, who has been working at the firm for 51/2 years, said working in a multi-disciplinary team and with researchers in Britain had been useful.

"Even though I am not trained in certain areas, such as artificial intelligence, through the exposure, I was able to learn a lot... The company gives a lot of opportunities to young engineers, tolerates mistakes and encourages you to learn from them," said Mr Ong, a Nanyang Technological University graduate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'New Dyson centre here a boost for R&D drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe