University of Sheffield forges prestigious new partnerships with China

  • New collaboration agreed with Chinese Future Lab focused on groundbreaking digital technologies
  • Week of high-level university and business visits from China showcase University of Sheffield's use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning in advanced manufacturing, environmental sustainability and health
  • Chief Scientist and her team from Google AI visit the University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and The Diamond to see work on computer science, automating control and systems engineering, machine learning, robotics and applications of new digital technologies in advanced manufacturing

The University of Sheffield has today (26 April 2018) signed a collaboration agreement with China’s leading Tsinghua University to work with its groundbreaking Future Lab.

VCA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the University of Sheffield’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, and Director of the Tsinghua Future Lab, Professor Yingqing Xu.

The signing followed a visit to Beijing by Sir Keith, who attended the launch of the flagship Chinese Future Lab research initiative into the human and societal impacts of AI and other digital technologies.

Tsinghua University is ranked top in the world for computer science, based on its total research output and performance.

According to Professor Xu, whose own research background is in high-level applications of computer graphics, Future Lab research will receive long term funding and its themes will include “future living, future healthcare, computer vision, computer emotions and multichannel cognition”.

MOU signingThe Future Lab has been described as “a crossover between science, tech, society and art”.

The MOU signing was part of a week-long visit by senior Chinese partners from academia and business to Sheffield, focused on developing collaboration in the application of digital technologies between the UK and China.

Members of China's leading business and industry think tank China 100 included investors and business leaders keen to understand opportunities for in-depth commercial partnerships with Sheffield. The visit was led by scientist and investor Professor Ma, whose business interests include intelligent manufacturing and smart data.

A highlight of the week was the first visit to Sheffield by the Chief Scientist for Google AI and Machine Learning, Professor Fei Fei Li. Professor Li is also the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) and the Stanford Vision Lab. In 2017 she co-founded AI4ALL, a non-profit organisation working to increase diversity and inclusion in AI.

Professor Li works in the areas of computer vision and cognitive neuroscience and first met Sir Keith in Beijing for a private discussion in 2017. She was joined on the visit to Sheffield by colleagues from Google in the US, including a University of Sheffield Computer Science graduate. They were taken on tours of the University's flagship Factory 2050 and The Diamond, where Professor Li was impressed by the applications of AI and machine learning in advanced manufacturing, as well as the groups working collaboratively on cutting edge computer science, robotics and automatic control and systems engineering.

Professor Li saw a demonstration and presentations on current research into the potential applications of the Internet of Things at the Siemens MindSphere Lounge in The Diamond and met students working collaboratively in the iForge maker space. She then attended a wrap-up meeting with Sir Keith in which she commended the University for its groundbreaking approach to teaching and applications, and for its facilities including The Diamond and Factory 2050.

Commenting on the visits, Sir Keith said: "I am delighted to welcome such a high-level international delegation to Sheffield to investigate the ways in which pioneering digital technologies can be used to address common challenges, improve lives and create prosperity for people in the UK and in China.

“Over recent years we have been working hard to develop the research and partnerships which open up the opportunities for in-depth collaboration in the most exciting areas and the fact that our University is now working with top Chinese universities such as Tsinghua, and hosting the scientific leadership of companies like Google, reflects our increasing international reputation as a global leader in the applications of digital technologies.

“I could not be more proud of this achievement and all I know it will mean for the future."

The University of Sheffield undertakes internationally leading research in Computer Science, Control Systems and Advanced Manufacturing and was recently named among the Top 50 most international universities in the world in the Times Higher Education Global Rankings.

Read the Vice-Chancellor's comment on the visit in the Sheffield Telegraph

MindSphere The Diamond
Fei Fei Li Delegation in Diamond

Additional information

Tsinghua Future Lab

Tsinghua University launched its Future Lab (similar to the Media Lab at MIT) in December 2017. The Future Lab will focus on interdisciplinary research on Human Futures, with a strong emphasis on the application of AI. Sheffield President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett was a guest at the launch and has had several meetings and discussions with its Director, Professor Yingqing Xu.

Tsinghua University is one of the top academic institutions in China and Asia, and 14th worldwide in the 2017 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings. Since 2015, Tsinghua has been ranked as the best engineering and computer science university in the world, based on its total research output and performances.

Google AI

Google states: “Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, and AI is enabling us to do that in incredible new ways - solving problems for our users, our customers, and the world. AI makes it easier for you to do things every day, whether it’s searching for photos of people you love, breaking down language barriers, or helping you get things done with your own personal digital assistant. But it’s also providing us with new ways of looking at old problems and helping transform how we work and live, and we think the biggest impact will come when everyone can access it.”

University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Hannah Postles
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 2221046