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China's HNA signs tech research deal with leading UK university

By Cecily Liu | | Updated: 2017-06-29 22:24

HNA Group's technology unit has signed a 3 million-pound ($3.9 million) research deal with London's Imperial College focusing on developing block-chain technology, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

The five-year agreement between HNA Technology and Imperial's Data Science Institute is the latest example of Chinese companies developing better technology through working with overseas universities.

"Our abundant group company data and strong in-house research expertise will contribute toward this collaboration,"HNA Technology Chairman Tong Fu said. "We hope the results of the research projects can then help us improve our business operations."

Among those attending the signing of the agreement were the UK's Prince Andrew, Lu Ying, vice-chairman of HNA Group, and Professor Guo Yike, director of the DSI.

HNA Group is the Chinese conglomerate known for its overseas acquisitions in recent years. Notable assets it has bought include the Zurich airport luggage handler Swissport and Dublin-based leasing company Avalon Holdings.

The fruits of the research by HNA Technology and DSI will be applied to all of HNA Group's companies, which cover sectors including aviation, hospitality, tourism, real estate, retail, finance, logistics, shipbuilding and eco-tech.

"For example, big data research can help us to better understand our customer characteristics, and we can use this information to better serve them," Tong said. "Data science can also help us optimize our business financial modeling, and improve the effectiveness of our financing activities.''

Professor Guo, who is an expert in big data and machine learning, highlighted the achievement and prospects of big data applications to President Xi Jinping during his visit to the UK in 2015.

The collaboration with DSI marks HNA Technology's first UK research deal and follows similar research agreements with universities in China, the US and Israel.

DSI has previously established research partnerships with the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and Zhejiang University, among others.

The deal comes at a time of booming UK-China scientific collaboration.

In 2014, the two governments launched the 200-million-pound Newton Fund to support bilateral science collaboration.

Nigel Brandon, vice-dean of research at Imperial College's faculty of engineering, said working with HNA Group would contribute toward the university's goal of putting its lab-based research into practice in the business world.

"Partnership with a leading company like HNA with lots of data and interesting challenges allow us to apply our research," Brandon said. "The fact that HNA is a company based in China, but has operations internationally, also helps to enrich our research geographically."

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