The Waterloo.AI Institute is among a handful of research institutes established in recent years across Canada in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML). The main goal of the Institute is to advance the field of AI/ML while providing highly coveted know-how to support industrial partners in the quest to become more competitive in the age of big data, cloud computing, automation and robotics, and Internet of Things. Major growth witnessed in the past ten years in the field of AI/ML has motivated many companies to benefit from this trend. Given the unique critical mass of UW researchers working in AI/ML and related fields, establishing the Waterloo.AI Institute was a compelling initiative. With support from various faculties across the University, and in particular the faculties of Math and Engineering, the Institute was inaugurated in early 2018, around the same time that other federally and provincially funded institutes were founded (MILA in Montreal, AMII in Edmonton and the Vector Institute in Toronto).
Since its launch, and thanks to the many efforts of researchers from all faculties, and with the support of the University along with more than 19 industrial partners who contributed generous funding and in-kind resources (datasets, computing resources, staff time), the Institute has been able to achieve several important goals. These include more than 45 short and long-term research projects through funding from our industrial partners, organizing several reverse co-op sessions mostly directed to the staff and researchers of sponsoring companies. This support both financially and in-kind, enabled more than eight national and international workshops and conferences, establishing a regular seminar series for researchers at UW, organizing a job fair for our graduating students (students affiliated with the AI Institute through their supervisors), and introducing the Institute to more than seventy-five companies, mostly in Canada and the US. The Institute has been able to attract more than $6M in funding from industrial partners, with a commitment of support ranging from one to four years. These were in the form of direct support for research projects, a research chair, scholarships, and sponsoring of the various Institute activities.
The Institute currently counts among its membership more than 200 faculty members and more than 250 graduate students, all working in AI/ML and related fields. While a lot has been achieved, there are still challenges and hurdles to overcome. The impact of the COVID19 pandemic, which has slowed down the injection of funds (whether new or already committed), has been significant. It has mainly impacted the output of some funded projects and affected the pace of the undertaken research by faculty members and research scientists (mostly due to lack of access to new graduate students and to the restructuring of some of the companies that have originally supported various research projects).
As we embark on a new year in the life of the Waterloo.AI Institute, we continue planning for more activities to benefit our partners and affiliated researchers. These planned activities include new AI/ML seminars, broader outreach via Industry Days, talks, panel discussions, and reverse co-op sessions. Additionally, the Institute will continue sponsoring international activities (workshops, technical events and conferences) scheduled into 2021 and beyond. As we are actively expanding our partnerships with more companies, the increased funding will support more researchers and sponsoring industries. We continue counting on the outstanding support from our faculty colleagues, students, and the University of Waterloo, who have made the project of the Institute a reality.