A major boost for Utrecht's AI research

ROBUST aims to provide a new boost to Dutch fundamental research on Artificial Intelligence (AI). The program will receive a contribution of 25 million euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). In ROBUST, 51 partners from industry, government, and the knowledge sector work together, including Utrecht University and Utrecht University of Applied Sciences.

In total, 87.3 million euros will be invested in ROBUST over the next ten years by 17 universities and colleges, 19 industrial partners, and 15 societal partners. The consortium partners will collaborate on various projects across the country, with the goal of using AI technology as a key technology in the development of sustainable solutions for socially relevant issues, particularly in the health care, logistics, media, food, and energy sectors. With the NWO contribution, 17 new research and innovation labs will be financed in the field of AI and 170 new PhD students will be recruited.


Utrecht is well represented in ROBUST. Within the RAIL Lab, led by Marjan van den Akker (Utrecht University) and Mathijs de Weerdt (Delft University of Technology), AI researchers, data scientists and social scientists from Utrecht University, Delft University of Technology, the Dutch Railways, and ProRail work together to find AI solutions for safe and reliable logistics operations and capacity planning of the Dutch railway network. With more train traffic, the chances of disruptions are greater. Specifically, the researchers are working on developing AI technology that can increase the capacity of the railway network while keeping the chances of disruptions limited. Previous research has already led to major improvements in the timetable. The challenge now mainly lies around the stations.

Han Hoogeveen, one of the lead researchers involved in the RAIL Lab: “We are very happy with the new ROBUST funding, which allows the lab to recruit five new PhD candidates, three of them in Utrecht. With this, we can take a structured approach to research on node planning. This will lead to better utilisation of the available infrastructure, allowing NS to run more trains and allow more passengers to use trains. Furthermore, it will make it easier for NS to run trains on time in the morning and possibly even match train capacity to demand.”

Support for SMEs in Utrecht

Utrecht University and Utrecht University of Applied Sciences (HU) also participate in the AI for SME lab, which will start in June 2023. This lab aims to increase the innovation potential - and therefore the economic development - of SMEs in the Utrecht region. Students from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and Utrecht University will work on specific and defined posed by SMEs. In this way, not only the students but also the participating companies will increase their AI and data expertise.

Cocky de Wolf (UU) and Daan Kolkman (HU) are working together on the development of the AI for SME lab that will be launched in June 2023. Their mission: "The lab aims, very concretely, to make the latest knowledge and techniques accessible to SMEs. This way, we provide them with tools that are normally only available to large organizations. This is important for the competitiveness of SMEs, which form the engine of the Dutch economy."

More about ROBUST and ICAI

ROBUST is an initiative of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), a Dutch national network focused on joint technology development between science, business, and government in the field of artificial intelligence. Read more about the work of the ICAI here.