Europe’s most innovative universities for AI and robotics

Europe is home to an exciting pool of researchers and institutions championing AI and robotics innovation. In the first of a five-part series we take a quick look at just a few of them.  

The European AI and robotics landscape has a strong focus on partnerships. Earlier this year, 25 European Union member states signed a declaration of co-operation regarding AI, ensuring the continent’s joint competitiveness in terms of research and deployment.

The European Commission has also called for a €20 billion investment in AI to be reached by the end of 2020, with the aim for researchers to develop the next generation of AI technologies and applications, and to ensure Europe can keep up with the US and China, where most leading AI firms are based.

The quality of output from the continent’s research facilities will be instrumental in understanding European AI and robotics success. We take a quick look at just some universities and their recent game-changing endeavours.

1. Cambridge University, UK

Cambridge is one of the largest technology clusters in Europe. Startups associated with the university have seen impressive growth, perhaps due to the university’s key focus on entrepreneurship.

Recent notable project

A team of researchers from the university’s Department of Computer Science and Technology have created a robot that can copy human emotions. The robot, named Charles, uses natural affect data to replicate realistic facial expressions and gestures.

Recent achievements

The UK’s fastest academic supercomputer, based at the University of Cambridge, is to be made available to AI companies to support the government’s AI Sector Deal. It’s part of a £10 million partnership between the university, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

AI projects involving Cambridge researchers are already under way. In the life sciences we are working on medical imaging analysis and genomics, and in astronomy, AI is being used as part of the Square Kilometre Array project and research to map exoplanets.

Dr Paul Calleja, Director of High Performance Computing, University of Cambridge

2. ETH Zurich, Switzerland

ETH Zurich is a prominent STEM university. Its Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems (IRIS) consists of eight independent labs focusing on areas such as nanodevices for biomedicines and autonomous aerial vehicles.

Recent notable project

Researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Bologna have developed DroNet, described in a paper as “a lightweight residual convolutional neural network (CNN) architecture”. It allows engineers to maximise a drone’s limited power and memory supply.

Recent achievements

ETH Zurich has a long history of being one of the world’s most prestigious science and technology universities. It has produced 20 Nobel Prize Laureates to date, including Albert Einstein.

Recently, it achieved its highest ranking in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) university rankings – placing it in the top 1% alongside the likes of MIT and Oxford University.

The ranking reflects a great team effort from the entire ETH community. A community that dedicates their talents to outstanding teaching and research supported by a highly motivated administrative and technical staff. As a public university, for ETH such a result also reflects the support and commitment of the Swiss society.

Detlef Günther, Vice President, ETH Research and Corporate Relations

3. Technical University of Berlin, Germany

Credit: Eigenes Werk (CC BY-SA 3.0)

TU Berlin is an internationally renowned research university located in Germany’s capital.

Recent notable project

A bot named Alex is helping improve the student experience at TU Berlin. Built by current PhD student Thilo Michael as part of his master’s course, Alex allows students to find information much more quickly than traditional systems. Instead of keyword research, it analyses sentences to determine context and meaning.

Recent achievements

The university’s Robotics and Biology Laboratory has partnered with a number of other leading institutions and companies to create a hand that is capable of advanced manipulation. The SoMa (soft manipulation) project has been tested out in Ocado warehouses and is pioneering developments into how robots can adapt to handle fragile and complex objects.

My research is concerned with the algorithmic foundations required to enable robotic agents to autonomously perform complex tasks in dynamic and unstructured environments. Beyond the scope of robotics, I apply these algorithmic foundations to problems in structural molecular biology, such as protein structure prediction, protein folding, and protein docking.

Professor Dr Oliver Brock, Chair of the Robotics and Biology Laboratory, TU Berlin

4. University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

As well as offering reputable degrees in artificial intelligence, the university is also bringing together the country’s public and private sectors to further AI and robotics development.

Recent notable project

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have unlocked a variation of convolution neural networks (CNN) known as Spherical CNNs. These CNNs allow machines to ‘see’ objects in 3D. The idea is still in its early stages, but it holds the potential to improve object detection in IoT, autonomous cars, AR and VR.

Recent achievements

In April this year, the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI) was launched. It’s an open collaborative initiative led by the University of Amsterdam and the VU University Amsterdam, with the goal of joining the country’s business sector and government together in the development of AI technology.

The Netherlands has all the resources to take up a prominent position in the international AI landscape – top talent, innovation strength and research at world-class level. ICAI combines these strengths in a unique national initiative.

Maarten de Rijke, Director of ICAI and Professor of Information Retrieval, University of Amsterdam

5. Italian Institute of Technology, Italy

The Italian Institute of Technology is a leading scientific research centre located in Genoa.

Recent notable project

The university is best known for its iCub project, a robot child developed in 2004, which still forms the standard of reference for humanoid robot development around the world. Today, Italian researchers are now developing a control system they hope will allow the iCub humanoid to fly. The idea is, by using four jet thrusters, the robot can use flight to increase efficiency and versatility.

Recent achievements

Since 2006, the Italian Institute of Technology has obtained around 10,745 publications on international scientific journals, produced more than 200 inventions and filed more than 600 patent applications.

Advanced robots will not be confined to factories and manufacturing tasks. Rather, they will leave laboratories to help us in daily life.

Italian Institute of Technology

From flying robots to handy bots, the future of European technology looks bright. Of course, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. With further collaboration and greater investment, who knows what other exciting breakthroughs lie ahead?

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