Research News

KU’s New Research Institute on AI Kicks Off

July 15, 2019

Second Edition of MBZIRC to Help Advance Innovation in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Khalifa University Launches ‘Program in Artificial Intelligence’ from Fall 2019 Semester

Khalifa University today announced a major foray into building talent and human capital in artificial intelligence by unveiling three initiatives – the Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Systems Institute (AI Institute), a Program in Artificial Intelligence, and the Mohammed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) that will be held in February 2020 to further advance innovation in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Khalifa University has committed a funding outlay of more than AED160 million over a five-year period for projects under the scope of the AI Institute. This is in addition to the AED160 million already committed to the Emirates ICT Innovation Center (EBTIC), thus making the university’s total spend on artificial intelligence research projects to more than AED320 million.

The AI Institute is Khalifa University’s third, and complements the other two – Masdar Institute and Petroleum Institute. The third institute’s focus areas will include academic programs in artificial intelligence development, continuous professional development and research centers.

The announcements were made during a press conference that was addressed by Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, Executive Vice-President, Dr. Ahmed Al Shoaibi, Senior Vice-President, Academic and Student Services, Dr Steve Griffiths, Senior Vice-President for Research and Development, Dr. Ernesto Damiani, Senior Director, AI Institute, and Dr. Lakmal Seneviratne, Associate Provost of Research & Graduate Studies and Professor of Robotics, as well as other faculty members.


The AI Institute will aim to bring all the university’s research in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), data science and information and communication technologies under a single umbrella.

With US$5-million prize money, the highest in the world, the MBZIRC 2020, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious AI and robotics competitions, is scheduled for February 2020. The international biennial challenge will select 34 robotics teams from top universities around the world to compete in Abu Dhabi for a three-day event that will test the innovation and science and engineering skills.

The Program in Artificial Intelligence, first-of-its-kind in the UAE, will be available to all undergraduate, graduate and PhD science and engineering students starting from Fall 2019 semester. Designed for non-Computer Science and non-Computer Engineering majors, the course will provide students with the required knowledge in AI and related skills to serve the UAE government agencies and the industry sector.

Students pursuing the Program in AI will take five courses – all involving practical work in the lab, helping them link theory to practice. The program culminates with a final AI project which is directly related to students’ major studies.

Mandated to focus on research for next generation digital technologies, the AI Institute will focus on AI, data science, robotics, next generation networks, semiconductor technologies and cybersecurity. The primary focus will be on applied AI, while fundamental and general AI will be additionally pursued through partnerships.

Of the core research centers under AI Institute, Khalifa University Center for Autonomous Robotic Systems (KUCARS) focuses on research for robotics in extreme environments, industrial applications, and infrastructure inspection. EBTIC leads research into advancing intelligent systems technologies for next generation networks (NGNs) and NGN-enabled ICT applications and services that enable the digital economy in the UAE.

The Khalifa University Center for Cyber-Physical Systems (C2PS) focuses on cybersecurity, big data analytics and artificial intelligence, networks and communication technology, and computation architectures. The System-on-Chip Center (SoCC) covers integrated SoC solutions for various applications targeting near market research. The Khalifa University-Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KU-KAIST) Joint Research Center focuses on technologies that are shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), particularly in ‘Smart Transportation’ and ‘Smart Healthcare’.

The AI Institute will be headed by Senior Director Dr. Ernesto Damiani, The institute’s core research centers, already launched in 2018, are the KUCARS and the C2PS. Also under the institute’s umbrella are the KU-KAIST Joint Research Center, the SoCC and the Healthcare Engineering Innovation Center (HEIC). The EBTIC, which includes Etisalat, ICT Fund and British Telecom as partners, will also be central to the institute’s research and development capabilities.

Speaking at the press conference, Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, said: “Khalifa University’s AI Institute, a single umbrella that gathers activities of six research centers, reflects our commitment to research in next generation digital technologies that are priority areas for the UAE’s economy. This is the first institute in the UAE focused on AI applications and will train government and industries in AI science and applications. It will also conduct state-of-the-art research that will benefit government and industry sectors. As new intelligent system capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, gather steam, Khalifa University will be at the forefront of developing new innovations from these platforms.”

“With US$5-million prize money, the MBZIRC’s second edition to be held in February 2020 will demonstrate our commitment to encourage innovation and nurture talent, while the launch of the Program in Artificial Intelligence will facilitate greater contribution to developing talent in this growing area of science. We believe, with the new research institute, the MBZIRC 2020 and the Program in AI, Khalifa University will continue to lead innovation in next generation technologies that bring benefits to the community,” Dr Al Hammadi added.

MBZIRC 2020 will address key application challenges including security, civic emergency response, and construction automation. Challenge 1 requires a team of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to autonomously track, locate and capture hostile UAVs to ensure safety.

Challenge 2 requires a team of robots (UAVs and unmanned ground vehicles – UGVs) to collaborate and autonomously locate, pick, transport and assemble different types of objects to build pre-defined structures, in an outdoor environment. Challenge 3 requires a team of UAVs and UGVs to collaborate and autonomously extinguish a series of simulated fires in urban high-rise buildings. The Grand Challenge requires a team of robots (UAVs and UGVs) to compete in a triathlon-type event combining aspects of all three categories.

Clarence Michael
News Writer
15 July 2019

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