Grab opens research and development centre in Kuala Lumpur

SINGAPORE - Grab has opened a new research and development (R&D) centre in Kuala Lumpur, the ride-hailing firm's seventh such facility and its first in Malaysia, it announced on Tuesday (Dec 11). Having doubled its tech headcount since the end of 2017 to almost 2,000 employees, Grab plans to hire for another 1,000 tech roles in the coming year. This includes 100 hires in KL, including software engineers, data scientists and data analysts.

Said Grab's head of engineering Ditesh Gathani: "By setting up an R&D centre in Malaysia, we want to play a part in developing deep tech talent in the country, particularly in areas like machine learning."

Grab's existing R&D centres are in Bangalore, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Seattle and Singapore.

The KL team will focus on developing and enhancing real-time communications features such as VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls via GrabChat, building new Web products, and improving and developing new safety measures through machine learning. An example of the latter is Grab's "driver fatigue" feature that notifies drivers to take a break if their fatigue score - based on factors such as how long they have been on the road, time of day, rest between shifts, and age - is too high.

Grab said the new centre would support its growth and evolution as it moves to become "the first everyday super app in South-east Asia", citing its accelerated expansion into the payments space this year, as well as moves into areas such as food, grocery and parcel deliveries. Its presence has expanded from 30 cities at the start of 2017 to 235 cities today.

While the R&D focus remains on core transport projects, the growth of the tech team will fuel development of GrabPlatform, a suite of APIs (application programming interfaces) for partners to integrate their services with Grab, with the company expecting more partnerships and services in the next year. It is also boosting AI capabilities to leverage its dataset not just for service provision, but for tackling issues such as congestion and financial inclusion.