By: Krista Henry

When it comes to bridging the gap between artificial intelligence (AI) research and industry applications, Waterloo co-op students are on it.

Co-op students are currently in Norway as part of the international work-integrated-learning (IWIL AI) project funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills. IWIL AI is a partnership with Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education team, Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute (Waterloo.AI) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

At NTNU, Waterloo students are supporting projects that will have real-world applications. In the last year, NTNU hired four students. Their roles are AI specialist, social robotics programmer (AI) and front and backend developer for AI supported learning platforms.

“These students have been working on some cool projects including our Kaia, the social robot,” says Özlem Özgöbek, associate professor, computer science at NTNU and project manager for IWIL AI.

“The aim of the work is to have voice conversations with the robot. This involves using large language models and other AI techniques to program the robot. They are contributing to the development of AI and conversational robots.”

Co-op students with Kaia the social robot at CatchIDI3

Co-op students with Kaia the social robot at CatchIDI3

Another major project co-op students work on is developing a Norwegian language model as an educational platform for teachers and students. The project helps students connect various real-world topics to courses at NTNU. “This project involves natural language processing and other AI techniques with user interface development,” adds Özgöbek.

The four-year IWIL AI project promotes the value of co-op/WIL and its intersection with foundational and applied research. According to Özgöbek, Waterloo students are thriving in the interdisciplinary work taking place at NTNU. The students are learning more about the research environment in Norway, while also working with industry partners.

“We’re working at the intersection of academia and industry. The students get the chance to observe these collaborations and how they work at the university. They are really contributing to the research as much as they can,” says Özgöbek.

Fitting into a new work environment and culture has gone well for Waterloo co-op students. Karolina Storesund, administrative co-ordinator of the Norwegian Research Center for AI Innovation (NorwAI), hosted at NTNU, says the students have done a good job adjusting to their new environment.

Karolina Storesund

Karolina Storesund, administrative co-ordinator of NorwAI

As a mother myself I was a bit worried, but the students were very confident and they just found their way. They adapted fast! One student for example was going on skiing trips weeks after she arrived, which is very good.

Karolina Storesund

Stanley Miao presenting a research poster to other students

Stanley Miao presenting at the SINTEF University of Waterloo poster session 2023

Kate Bendall with Kaia the social robot at CatchIDI3

Kate Bendall with Kaia the social robot at CatchIDI3

An exchange of knowledge through WIL

IWIL AI will fund 24 Waterloo co-op students as they undertake AI in Norway at NTNU and at their industry partners. While sixteen master’s and Ph.D. students from NTNU will have a six-month applied research internship at Waterloo.AI, its research networks and industry partners.

Özgöbek praised Waterloo’s work-integrated learning model and the ease at which students were able to transition into a work term in Norway. NTNU hopes to send its first batch of students to Canada in the spring 2024 term to work with Waterloo.AI.

Waterloo has a very well-organized system that has run very smoothly. Whereas at NTNU it’s totally new and we’re trying to integrate work terms into our study programs. This project gives us the opportunity to explore how WIL works and what the advantages are. This is a first step in our exploration.

Özlem Özgöbek

Özlem Özgöbek

Özlem Özgöbek, associate professor, computer science at NTNU and project manager for IWIL AI