ROBUST AI program receives additional €25 million in funding from Dutch Research Council

January 10, 2023

ROBUST focuses primarily on the development of trustworthy AI technology for the resolution of socially relevant issues, such as those in healthcare, logistics, media, food and energy.

ROBUST, an initiative from the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), receives a €25 million contribution from NWO for the next ten years. The program will further strengthen the Dutch artificial intelligence ecosystem with a new impetus for fundamental AI research. Researchers from TU/e play a key role in the program.

ROBUST focuses specifically on developing reliable and explainable AI technology for socially relevant issues, in healthcare, logistics, media, food, and energy. The program is led by the UvA in collaboration with 51 partners from industry, government, and the knowledge sector. 

From TU/e, two labs are involved in the research project: FEPlab and the EAISI Mobility Lab. 


FEPlab is a collaboration between TU/e and hearing aid manufacturer GN Hearing. The mission of the lab is to ameliorate the participation of hearing-impaired people in formal and informal social settings.

The lab will focus its research on transferring a leading physics/neuroscience-based theory about computation in the brain, the Free Energy Principle (FEP), to practical use in human-centered agents such as hearing devices and VR technology.

FEPlab is co-directed by Bert de Vries (EE) and Jaap Ham (IE&IS)

EAISI Mobility Lab

EAISI Mobility Lab is a collaboration between TU/e and NXP Semiconductors. It aims to use the ongoing digitization of vehicles and transport services to bring about accident-free mobility.

The Mobility Lab aims to design intelligent mobility systems that sense their environment, learn and understand it, and, in interaction with humans, reason about which action to take to achieve specific goals.

The EAISI Mobility Lab is co-directed by Gerardo Daalderop (from NXP Semiconductors), Gijs Dubbelman (EE) and Carlos Zednik (IE&IS).

EAISI Program board director Shane O' Seasnáin, who coordinated this initiative from the start: "ROBUST is the exciting culmination of a long and intense process with many partners. It’s an excellent example of a large-scale national cooperation between research institutions and industry which has a positive impact on local economies. The new AI technologies that will result from this research are expected to have strong impacts and to include the needs of society for trustworthy AI. We are proud to extend our existing ICAI lab with NXP and add a fifth ICAI with GN Hearing".

Margriet van Schijndel, program manager Responsible Mobility of EAISI, adds: "For the EAISI Mobility Lab, the ROBUST program means a further deepening of the developments in the current collaboration, and a further securing for the longer-term collaboration with NXP. An important piece is also added in the field of ethics and AI for mobility. This fits well with our ambitions for an ELSA mobility lab" says Margriet van Schijndel, program manager Responsible Mobility of EAISI.


ROBUST unites 17 knowledge institutions, 19 participating industry sponsors and 15 civil-social organizations from across the Netherlands. Maarten de Rijke, UvA university professor of Artificial Intelligence and Information Retrieval, is the ROBUST program leader. 

The additional 25 million euro grant comes from a call by the research council for Long-Term Programs, which give strong public-private consortia the chance to receive funding for a ten-year period. This as part of the initiative of the Dutch AI Coalition to invest in explainable and trustworthy AI. Next to the research council, companies, knowledge institutes contribute to the program. The total ROBUST budget amounts to 87.3 million euros, of which 7.5 million coming from the Ministry of Economics and Climate.

The ROBUST program is complementary to the AiNed program and will shape the collaboration on dissemination, consolidation and valorization of the results, as well as retaining talent in the Netherlands. This contributes to the ambitions of the Strategy Digital Economy of the cabinet, to be in the forefront of human-centered AI development and AI applications.

170 new PhD candidates

Seventeen new public-private labs will be set up under the ROBUST umbrella and form part of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), thus bringing its lab total to 46. ICAI focuses on AI talent and knowledge development.

In the coming year, ROBUST will recruit no fewer than 85 new PhD candidates, followed by another 85 in five years’ time.

Human-centered AI for sustainable growth

‘What makes ROBUST unique is that not only will the new labs contribute to economic and technological objectives, they will also aid the United Nations’ sustainable development goals aimed at reducing poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change’, says De Rijke. ‘One important focus of all projects is to optimize reliable AI systems for qualities such as precision, soundness, reproducibility, resilience, transparency and security.’  

Twin-win study

Like the other ICAI labs, the ROBUST labs will put the twin-win principle into practice: close public-private research collaborations in AI technology that lead to open publications and to solutions validated in practice.

De Rijke: "We test our scientific findings within the context of companies. In this way, the research is more likely to touch on practice and we can substantiate insights much better. With this, we validate not only in labs, but also in the outside world."

"AI is a systems technology that touches all aspects of society. Therefore, it is important to make the development and deployment of AI technology a broad-based responsibility. ROBUST collaborates with regional social partners throughout the Netherlands, especially with startups and SMEs."

Knowledge sharing

The goal is not only to develop knowledge and innovations with the partners within ROBUST, but also to make them more widely available to other parties in the Dutch ecosystem. In addition, insights and implications for policy will be shared with national and European policy makers.


Henk van Appeven
(Communications Adviser)

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