Nieke Roos
4 July

The Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute, including the AI Engineering Lab, is set to make the Brainport region the center for AI in engineering.

The Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) has launched a new initiative to make the Brainport region the center for the application of artificial intelligence in engineering. Commissioned by the TUE’s High Tech Systems Center (HTSC), Albert van Breemen is already running the AI Engineering Lab. Independently, the university’s executive board has tasked Carlo van de Weijer with creating an umbrella research center, the Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), which is set to start at the beginning of the new academic year, on 2 September. Anticipating the merger of both, Van Breemen has been appointed EAISI program manager for the high tech industry.

With a one hundred million euro investment from the TUE, the EAISI – pronounced ‘easy’ – is looking to promote the university’s educational and scientific activities in the field of AI, in order to attract students, researchers, industrial partners and (European) investors. The director of the TUE’s strategic area Smart Mobility, Carlo van de Weijer, is in the driver’s seat. He’s supported by a program management team consisting of Albert van Breemen, Paul Merkus and Ben Rutten, with the help of Mark Mietus, operational director at the Data Science Center Eindhoven. Edwin van den Heuvel (professor of statistics), Paul van den Hof (professor of model-based systems and control), Wijnand IJsselsteijn (professor of cognition and affect in human-technology interaction) and Nathan van de Wouw (professor of dynamics and control) form the new institution’s scientific committee.

Albert van Breemen has set up the new AI Engineering Lab and has been appointed program manager at the new Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute.

For the large part, however, EAISI’s organization is still under construction. Van de Weijer’s top priorities are to recruit an academic staff of fifty, on top of the hundred scientists that the TUE has already working in the field of AI, and to set up facilities. The director would like to see all of the educational and research activities come together in the Laplace building on campus – the university’s old computer center and the former housing of the Embedded Systems Institute. As this building is currently being renovated and won’t be ready for another two years, the Gaslab will provide temporary accommodation.

Second wave

The AI Engineering Lab is already up and running. “Originally, the HTSC asked me to set up a consortium of companies willing to invest in PhD students in the field of artificial intelligence,” says AI consultant Albert van Breemen. “Talking to companies, I noticed a lack of knowledge and overview. That’s why I decided to set up the AI Engineering Lab first. It has three pillars: educate industry about AI, host a field lab where science and industry – big and small – can work together on projects, and perform PhD research.”

About two months after he got the idea for the lab, Van Breemen learned about the TUE’s plans for the umbrella AI center. He was soon asked to participate in the EAISI working group, resulting in his appointment as the institution’s program manager for the high tech industry. “There are still a lot of details about the EAISI that need to be filled in,” he explains. “As the AI Engineering Lab was already well underway, we decided to continue along two paths, though with the clear intention to merge them at some point in time.”

According to Van Breemen, there’s a strong shared vision. “Everybody talks about Amsterdam being the center of artificial intelligence in the Netherlands, but there’s a lot going on in Eindhoven as well, only less visibly so. While they’re focusing more on general IT and consumer applications of AI, we’re riding what I call the second wave of AI in engineering, with a strong focus on safety and real-time. Both the EAISI and the AI Engineering Lab strive to make Eindhoven the front-runner in this area of expertise. And I’m happy to see that the Brainport companies I talk to share this vision.”

Ambitious in AI

The AI Engineering Lab is now starting its first field lab projects. Meanwhile, Van Breemen is talking to potential investors. “There are five big providers of AI technology: Amazon, Google, IBM, Mathworks and Microsoft. We’re very close to getting them to set up shop in Eindhoven. That would be a great boost for the region’s ambitions in artificial intelligence.”

The umbrella plans are equally ambitious. In addition to the one hundred million investment by the TUE, the EAISI aims to attract thirty million euros per year from outside sources – companies, Dutch science organization NWO and European grants. And the fifty new employees need to be onboard in five years – quite a challenge given the current high demand for AI specialists.