Asia’s most innovative universities for AI and robotics

Asia is home to a number of countries considered AI and robotics powerhouses, including Japan and China. But how are the continent’s universities faring?

From algorithms to robotics and biochemistry and competitions, AI and its versatile applications are being researched and explored in depth in the region’s universities.

And it’s no wonder. China is the world’s largest buyer and user of industrial robots, while the region of Asia is home to the largest chunk of the world’s population.

The UN estimates that 60% of the world’s youth population resides in the Asia Pacific. Will these digital natives be the driving force in AI and robotics advancement?

A quick look at the region’s leading universities can help us find out.

1. Nanyang Technical University, Singapore

Nanyang Technical University (NTU) is an autonomous research university in Singapore. Its research labs include the Computational Intelligence LabData Science and AI Research Centre and Multi-platform Game Innovation Centre.

Recent notable project

Scientists at NTU have developed a robot that can autonomously assemble an IKEA chair. The robot is made up of a 3D camera and two robotic arms that come with grippers. Algorithms developed by the team control the robotic arms and help determine the force of grip. The chair can be assembled in 8 minutes and 55 seconds.

Recent achievements

In January 2018, NTU president, professor Subra Suresh, announced his plan to turn NTU into a smart campus. Suresh, who has a science and engineering background, hopes AI will help place the university among the world’s most elite in the years to come.

NTU has come a very long way in a very short period of time by anybody’s metric. I see this as more of an opportunity – how do you stabilise this rapid growth, and how do you make it part and parcel of the day-to-day operation of the university? It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon for the really long haul; and I think that’s really exciting.

Subra Suresh, President, Nanyang Technical University (via

2. The University of Tokyo, Japan

Image via Wikipedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Japan is one of the most culturally accepting nations when it comes to robots. This means researchers have a rich environment to create novel robotic applications and conduct cutting-edge research.

Recent notable project

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have discovered a method for growing living muscles over a robotic frame. It introduces a new frontier in robot development, away from the standard metal and plastic. With living muscles, robots can exhibit a much more impressive degree of flexibility.

Recent achievement

University of Tokyo Edge Capital, a venture capital firm affiliated with the university, has established a fund that ranks among Japan’s largest. The fund will target startups and expand on Japan’s research into automated driving, AI and healthcare.

It is important to study academic achievements made by foreign predecessors, but it is more important to formulate a hypothesis based on those preceding achievements on your own and applying the hypothesis to real society. That can result in the genuine development of academic studies.

Toru Nishigaki, Professor Emeritus, the University of Tokyo (via

3. Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, South Korea

Credit:  © revi / CC-BY-2.0-KR or FAL

KAIST was established in 1971 as the Korea Institute of Science with a loan given by the United States Agency for International Development. Its structure was created by an international team of academics.

Recent notable project

Earlier this year, a number of AI researchers called for a boycott of KAIST after the university launched a defence and AI project with Hanwha Systems, a South Korean maker of cluster munitions. However, the boycott was quickly called off after the university pledged it would not develop ‘killer robots’ under the partnership with the defence company. Instead it would continue AI research for military and demographic purposes – an issue it regards as important considering South Korea’s declining population and army size.

Recent achievement

KAIST recently came first in Reuters’ annual ranking of innovative universities in the Asia Pacific region. This marks the third year the university has achieved the top ranking. Institutions were ranked by quantitative measures such as patents and published papers. KAIST researchers filed 1,000 patents between 2011 and 2016, more than any other institution, with almost 80% of patents successfully granted.

As an academic institution, we value human rights and ethical standards to a very high degree. KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity, including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.

Sung-Chul Shin, President, KAIST (via

4. The University of Malaya, Malaysia

Credit: © Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya

Fundamental AI subjects taught at the University of Malaya (UM) include machine learning, numerical methods, image processing and natural language processing.

Recent notable project

A team from UM recently took first place at the inaugural online Academia Datathon weekend. The students beat a total of 130 participants from six countries and 10 universities. They impressed judges with their prediction model of cryptocurrency prices, and their model for autonomous AI decision-making in crypto trading and investing.

Recent achievement

According to the 2018/19 QS University Ranking Report, UM’s global world ranking is 87, up from 114 in the previous year.

The AI-related research conducted by UM’s researchers is vast, spanning from robotics, medical and healthcare devices, electrical and mechanical engineering, and logic programming to business administration forecasting.

Professor Abrizah Abdullah, Dean of Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University of Malaya (via New Straits Times)

5. Nanjing University, China

Credit: 猫猫的日记本 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nanjing University, alongside the University of Hong Kong and Peking University are some of the top ranked universities that regularly appear on the list of accepted papers in various AI conferences.

Recent notable project

Researchers at Nanjing University have developed an AI algorithm that can detect prostate cancer as accurately as a pathologist. Hongquian Guo, research leader of the project, said: “[This] will help pathologists make better, faster diagnoses, as well as eliminating the day-to-day variation in judgement that can creep in to human evaluation.”

Recent achievement

Earlier this year, Nanjing University announced the establishment of an Artificial Intelligence School, dedicated to AI research and talent development. Its computer science programme currently ranks 14th in terms of computer science and AI in the Asia region.

There are two specific areas in the AI study. The first is called artificial general intelligence or strong AI, which can often be seen in science fiction movies. The study in this area aims at making robots that are as smart as and even smarter than human beings. The second area is called weak AI or narrow AI, and it tries to make robots imitate certain human abilities and become a help in people’s daily work. This second topic is at present a major study of research by scientists.

Professor Zhi-Hua Zhou, Department of Computer Science, Nanjing University
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