Dyson expands AI, robotics efforts with new technology center

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(Bloomberg) -- Dyson Ltd., the U.K. maker of high-end vacuum cleaners and hand dryers, said it's creating a new 517-acre campus in the English countryside to expand its research and development of robotics, batteries, vision systems and artificial intelligence.

James Dyson, the company's founder, announced the expansion today at the new site in the Cotswolds, about 100 miles west of London on a former military barracks and flying school. Work will start with the restoration of a former World War II airplane hangar in May with the goal of it opening by the end of the year.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that the company's expansion is a vote of confidence for the British economy following the country's decision to leave the European Union. "Dyson’s exporting strength and commitment to creating jobs in Britain is a real success story that demonstrates the opportunity that our plan to create a truly global Britain can present," May said.

Still, Dyson said the U.K. lacks enough skilled workers. An additional 640,000 engineers are needed in the U.K. by 2020, according to the company. To fill the gap, the firm pledged 15 million pounds ($18.6 million) over the next five years to create an alternative to going to university. Talented engineers will be able to work and study at the company for four years to gain hands-on experience.

“The U.K.’s skills shortage is holding Dyson back as we look to increase the amount of technology we develop and export from the U.K.," Dyson said in a statement. "We are taking matters into our own hands."

Dyson employs 3,500 people in the U.K. Its global headquarters is in nearby Malmesbury, a campus that in addition to research and engineering labs has a helicopter in the parking lot and a jet plane hanging from the cafeteria ceiling. The company also recently opened a technology center in Singapore where it employs 1,100 people.

While best known for its vacuum cleaners, Dyson is expanding into new areas. A $400 hair dryer introduced in 2016 took four years and $70 million to develop. The company said it has committed 2.5 billion pounds to future technologies. In 2015, the company bought the battery startup Sakti3 for $90 million, and has pledged to spend 1 billion pounds on battery development. The work has contributed to speculation the company is working on an electric car.

--With assistance from Ashlee Vance

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