UK national security cancels robotics deal with Chinese firm

A deal to supply robotic vision technology to a Chinese company has been canceled under UK national security law.

The deal would have seen intellectual property developed by the University of Manchester, dubbed SCAMP-5 and SCAMP-7, licensed to Chinese company Beijing Infinite Vision Technology.

According to a funding proposalthe technology uses “new tightly integrated sensing and processing hardware, as well as vision, navigation, and control algorithms, to enable the next generation of autonomous robots.”

Additionally, the proposal adds that the system uses a bespoke “vision chip” to differentiate the device from conventional image sensors.

However, the British government intervened to block the deal, citing national security concerns. The National Security and Investment (NSI) Act 2021 gives the government the power to block corporate transactions if they risk harming the national security of the UK.

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, signed the final orderwho warned that “it is possible that the technology could be used to build defense or technological capabilities which could pose a risk to the national security of the UK” if the transfer of intellectual property took place.

According to the government, Beijing Infinite Vision Technology has ties to the Chinese state.

In a statement, the University of Manchester said: “We have put in place thorough internal processes to review proposed international agreements. There has been a follow-up to this matter and, in accordance with the law, we have voluntarily returned this agreement with the British government.


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A similar investigation under the NSI Act took place last year when the government intervened in a proposed sale of the UK’s largest microchip factory.

As part of the deal, Newport Wafer Fab would have been sold to Nexperia, a company controlled by a Chinese parent company with ties to the Chinese state.

The security investigation was launched amid growing pressure over fears the deal could pose a threat to British interests. The deal, critics say, could have eroded the UK’s industrial resilience.

A final decision on the deal has been repeatedly delayed, with a ruling expected in September.

However, the University of Manchester deal marks the first time the legislation has succeeded in stopping a deal. Currently, 17 agreements have been investigated, 14 of which are still awaiting a final decision.

The law requires companies to notify the UK Government’s Department of Business if an investor takes a stake of more than 25%, or acquires some control over the company, if it is involved in any of the 17 sectors covered by the law .

As such, there are concerns that the law could stifle investment in startups.

Jock Millican, chairman of LINC Scotland and director of Equity Gap, had previously warned that the wording of the law risked depriving viable companies of angel investment and reducing confidence.

And in a statement by former Universities, Science and Innovation Minister Jo Johnson, he warned that strained relations between China and the West pose a growing challenge for higher education institutions.

“Our universities must prepare for a geopolitical shock that sees a security grid collapse on many more of their activities, including knowledge partnerships with China,” he warned.

“Academia becomes a battleground when geopolitics turns sour and definitions of national security become much more general.”


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